Besiktas tells fans not to stir up trouble
By Associated Press on 2011-09-14 13:15:08
ANKARA, Turkey - Turkish police are taking measures to counter protests, including possible plans to invade the pitch, during a politically charged Europa League match between Besiktas and Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Thursday's match in Istanbul comes amid deepening tensions between the two countries after Israel refused to apologize for a raid on a Gaza-bound ship last year that killed nine activists, prompting Turkey to expel top Israeli diplomats, cut military ties with the country and vow to send navy vessels to escort aid ship in the future.
Israel has defended its raid on the flotilla, saying its troops were defending themselves against activists who attacked them as they boarded.
The Turkish government has assured Maccabi of its safety, rejecting calls for the game to be played at a neutral venue.
The Israeli team arrived at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport under tight security Wednesday with riot police lining an exit at the airport to form a corridor between the terminal and a team bus. Police also stopped traffic to allow the bus to travel, the state-run Anatolia news agency said.
CNN-Turk television said about 5,000 officers have been assigned to police the game and protect the Israeli players and dozens of traveling fans.
The Israeli armed forces have authorized Maccabi players currently carrying out their military service to travel to Istanbul for the game, Maccabi said. There had been reports those players would not be allowed to travel to Turkey for security reasons.
"Politics and football should not be mixed,'' Maccabi coach Mordehay Iwanir said. "We have no concerns about being here. We have no fear.''
Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper described a stands for the 100 or so Maccabi fans expected to attend the game as a "cage'' and said the Turkish security forces would not allow any interaction between the fans.
Turkey is eager to avoid a repeat of a European Cup basketball game between Bnei Hasharon and Turk Telekom in Ankara in 2009, when the Israeli team was forced to flee to the locker room as hundreds of fist-pumping and chanting Turkish fans pelted them with bottles, protesting an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza. The game was postponed because the Israeli team did not return to the court.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Besiktas said police were taking measures to thwart protests that were being organized on social networking websites, including a possible pitch invasion. The statement came after Besiktas officials late Tuesday held a meeting with police and the Istanbul's governor's office to coordinate security ahead of the game.
"Both (Besiktas) and the Istanbul Police Department officials are closely watching these and taking the necessary measures,'' the club said.
Besiktas called on fans to show the Israelis hospitality that is often touted as a characteristic trait of the Turkish people, and warned that the club could face punishment by UEFA for any unruly fan behavior.
"We see (the game) as an opportunity for our fans, who are known to be gentlemanly and loyal to the spirit of fair play, to once again display their hospitality,'' the club said. "It is the great Besiktas fans' duty to avoid certain actions that may cause our club to be sanctioned by the UEFA.
"The fans should merely support our club in an impassioned manner.''
Turkish-Israeli relations hit a new low earlier this month when a U.N. report into the Israeli raid said the country's naval blockade of Gaza was a "legitimate security measure,'' but also called the raid on the flotilla that tried to break the blockade "excessive and unreasonable.''
Turkey rejected the report, saying it does not recognize the blockade's legitimacy. It said ties with Israel would not return to their normal level until Israel apologizes, compensates the victims' families and lifts the blockade of Gaza.
Last week, Israel expressed regret for the loss of lives and said it was time for the two countries to restore their former ties.
Turkey took strict security measures during last year's European Volleyball League tournament and closed a game between Turkey and Israel to the public. A small group of protesters were stopped by police two blocks away from the venue as they voiced anger over Israel's May 31 raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.
Before another volleyball match between Israel and Serbia during the tournament in July, protesters scuffled with police, pounding police shields with Palestinian flags.
In previous years, an Egyptian football player assaulted an Israeli player during a league match in Turkey.