BELGRADE, October 15- The brother of Albania’s Prime Minister was arrested in Belgrade on Tuesday night, accused of starting the trouble that caused the abandonment of the Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania, Serbian state television RTS reported.
RTS cited the Serbian Interior Ministry saying that Olsi Rama, from his seat in an executive box in the stadium, controlled a drone carrying a ‘Greater Albanian’ flag which flew over the pitch triggering clashes between the two teams as some of the 20,000 home fans tried to assault Albanian players.
The incident, in the 41st minute of the Group I encounter at which Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic was also in attendance, led to its abandonment with the score goalless.
Serbian fans hurled smoke bombs and other missiles onto the pitch in protest in a game from which Albanian fans had been barred by the Serbian Football Federation on Sunday.
The incident comes just days before the highly sensitive visit of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama next Wednesday, the first such visit in 68 years.
Rama’s visit to Serbia became possible after the normalisation of bilateral relations was sealed in April 2013 in an agreement brokered by the European Union.
A source close to Rama denied that his brother had been arrested in Belgrade.
The Albanian Interior Ministry said it had been watching the events unfold anxiously and had been in contact with the staff of their counterparts in Belgrade to transmit a message from their interior minister Saimir Tahiri.
“The Serbian Government is responsible for the security, the life and health of the footballers and the Albanian delegation,” Tahiri said in his message.
– ‘We wanted to continue’ –
Relations between Tirana and Belgrade have been fragile over the mainly ethnic Albanian former Serbian province of Kosovo and the ethnic Albanian minority in southern Serbia, who often demand more autonomy.
In Belgrade, some see Tirana’s interest as part of a plan aimed at creating a “Greater Albania” that would unite Albanian communities in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and southern Serbia.
Kosovo’s independence has been recognised by more than 100 countries, including the United States and most European Union member states.
The premature and violent end to Tuesday’s game was greeted with joy by nearly 5,000 Kosovar Albanians who gathered to watch in the Kosovo capital Pristina, shouting ‘Greater Albania’ and ‘victory’.
The Serbian national team captain, Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, voiced his dismay at the evening’s events.
“In the name of my team I can say that we wanted to continue the match… but the Albanian players said they weren’t in the physical or psychological state to continue,” he said.
Kosovo, the former Serbian province comprised mainly of Albanians, proclaimed its unilateral independence in February 2008.
The formation of Kosovo was made possible by a bloody chain of events after the end of the Soviet era.
The demise the Soviet Union in 1990-91 sparked the bloody wars that broke Yugoslavia apart into six multi-ethnic states, including Serbia.
NATO carried out a 78-day bombing campaign which led to Serb troops pulling out of Kosovo in 1999 and brought an end to the Serbian government’s repression of the ethnic Albanian population.
Serbia says the NATO airstrikes killed 2,500 civilians, including 89 children, a figure contested by NATO.