Ivory Coast referees go on strike

By John JamesBBC News, Abidjan
Linesman's flag
Referees in Ivory Coast are unhappy over beatings

Referees in Ivory Coast have started an indefinite strike after one of their number was beaten up by supporters of local club side Africa Sport.

The head of the association of referees, Leonard Nahi, said they would stop participating in all national competitions because of fears for their safety.

"Enough is enough. We suspend our participation in matches until our physical safety can be assured", said Nahi.

Referee Denis Dembele was hit by a hail of stones from Africa Sport fans unhappy with his refereeing during Saturday's 1-1 draw with SOA.

The supporters said SOA's equaliser shouldn't have stood and disputed a disqualified Africa goal near the end of the match.

A crowd of at least 50 supporters surrounded the referee after the match, who had to protected by riot police.

"They wanted to kill me but God was in control and we were able to escape", Dembele told the BBC.

He reports a bruised head, cuts and a swollen left eye.

"I'm proud that I did my job well and I'd happily referee the same match again" he said.

"But if it becomes something where we put our lives on the line, I'll go back to working in computing. If this is the image we want to show the world of Ivorian football, it's not worth it", he said.

The incident followed a similar one in Africa's previous match when supporters also made an attempt to attack the referee after a draw with Stella FC.

The battle for the national league title is unusually closely-fought this season in Ivory Coast, with last year's winners and the country's biggest club, Asec Mimosas, struggling in third place.