Ukraine calls for spectator ban at football matches

File photo of the Kharkiv stadium (21 May 2012) Officials earlier announced that the cup final, due to be held at Kharkiv, would be moved to another city

The Ukrainian government has asked its football league to hold remaining championship matches without spectators because of the risk of trouble.

It also wants games in the volatile south-eastern region to be moved to other parts of the country.

The call comes after clashes between supporters of a united Ukraine and pro-Russian groups at recent games.

Pro-Russian separatists have captured dozens of official buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks.

The government in Kiev has rejected the activists' demands for greater autonomy for eastern regions, and has sent troops to restore its authority.

'Extremely unfavourable'

In a statement, the interior ministry described the political situation as "extremely unfavourable for staging matches".

Analysis

The long-running crisis has fostered an unusual sense of unity among rival Ukrainian football fans. Their groups across the country, even in the predominantly Russian-speaking east, announced earlier this year they were suspending rivalry for the sake of preserving Ukraine's unity.

What followed was a series of marches held either before or after football games, where former bitter rivals - known as "ultras" - walked side by side, chanting pro-Ukrainian slogans. The first signs of such unity appeared in the run-up to President Viktor Yanukvoych's removal.

Supporters of Dynamo Kiev announced in January they were forming "self-defence units" against people allegedly hired by government supporters to intimidate the opposition. Their move was unexpectedly followed by supporters of Dynamo's arch rival, Shakhtar, based in Mr Yanukovych's stronghold of Donetsk.

It called on Ukraine's Football Federation to reschedule all of the season's remaining matches to "the daytime of weekdays" and play them "behind closed doors".

"The ministry respects the intention of Ukraine's football community to maintain the integrity of the national football championship," the interior ministry said.

"However, we ask the league match organisers and the country's football lovers to show their understanding of these urgent measures."

The ministry also said the football federation should consider moving matches away from the Donetsk, Luhansk, Odessa and Kharkiv regions to other areas.

Officials said they wanted to avoid a repetition of the violence which took place surrounding two recent games.

Dozens were injured in the eastern city of Kharkiv in late April, when pro-Russia supporters attacked football fans who had joined a march in support of a united Ukraine.

Five days later, more than 40 people died in clashes that followed an attack on a pro-Ukrainian march held by fans in the southern city of Odessa.

On Tuesday, the Football Federation confirmed that the national cup final, scheduled for Kharkiv on 15 May, would be moved to a different city.

Federation spokesman Pavel Ternovoi said the situation in the city was too "unstable" and Kharkiv officials would "not [be] able to completely guarantee safety".

The cup final could be postponed altogether, he told the Associated Press news agency.

Football fans at a march in support of a united Ukraine in Kharkiv (27 April 2014) Pro-Russia supporters attacked football fans marching in support of a united Ukraine in Kharkiv
Map showing eastern Ukraine

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