Soccer

Schalke slams police action during match with PAOK

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GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP)

Police have defended using pepper spray and batons against Schalke fans displaying a Macedonian banner during the Champions League qualifying match against Greek club PAOK, saying they feared dead and injured if rival supporters clashed.

Schalke criticized the local police and said its response to the tension was ''disproportionate.''

But police chief Klaus Sitzer, who commanded the police units at the match, said the measures were ''the mildest but necessary response to preserve security at the match.''

Sitzer said Thursday that about 2,000 Greek supporters had threatened to invade the pitch and attack Schalke fans because they felt provoked by the banner.

''In such a case life and limb of many would be threatened, even those uninvolved,'' police said in an earlier statement.

The police then decided to remove the banner by force and used pepper spray because officers were attacked by sticks and kicked as they moved in. Police said 30 people needed medical attention and had to have their eyes washed out.

''The banner doesn't justify the threat of violence by Greek fans,'' Schalke managing director Peter Peters said.

Peters also criticized Greek police officers at the game for ''twisting the facts'' and that the German police had reacted to recommendations from their Greek colleagues.

Earlier, PAOK fans set off firecrackers and flares at Gelsenkirchen's train station and two of them were detained, according to the police.

Greece has a long-running dispute with Macedonia over the former Yugoslav republic's name and says only its northern province can be called by that name.

Some Schalke fan groups have a friendly relationship with supporters of the Macedonian club Vardar Skopje.

Wednesday's match ended in a 1-1 draw. PAOK fans were banned from three home UEFA matches in Thessaloniki because of clashes with supporters of Rapid Vienna during a Europa League match last season.

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