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Rogue Fans Disrupt Iran-North Korea Soccer Match

By NORIMITSU ONISHI (NYT) 390 words
Published: March 31, 2005

TOKYO, Thursday, March 31 - Angry North Korean soccer fans in Pyongyang pelted visiting players and referees with bottles and cans on Wednesday evening, requiring the intervention of the police and providing seldom seen evidence of spontaneous violence in the tightly controlled state.

The incident began during the second half of a World Cup qualifying match at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, with the local team trailing Iran 2-0.

According to televised images of the match, North Korean players massed around a Syrian referee after he had rejected their demands for a penalty.

After one North Korean player who had repeatedly shoved the referee was penalized, fans hurled bottles and cans onto the field, forcing the match to be suspended for several minutes.

The commotion lasted for an hour after the match ended with North Korea's loss, 2-0.

According to reports from the stadium, the referees and Iranian players were unable to leave the field for about 20 minutes, as fans kept throwing objects, and they had to be evacuated under police escort.

Fans also reportedly threw objects at reporters and interrupted a news conference by Iran's coach, Branko Ivankovic.

''We felt our lives were not safe,'' Mr. Ivankovic said, according to Reuters. ''We tried to get on the bus after the game, but it was not possible. It was a very dangerous situation.''

North Korean players and fans seemed desperate for a victory on Wednesday, after losing in two previous regional qualifying matches.

With their third straight loss, they now will have to win the next three matches to hope to qualify for next year's World Cup finals in Germany.

For North Korea, the spontaneous violence broadcast on satellite television across the world was clearly an embarrassment.

The official Korean Central News Agency reported the outcome on Thursday but added this sentence: ''At the end of the match, all the spectators were angered and vigorously protested the wrong refereeing by the Syrian referee and linesmen.''

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