Tirana inhabitants brace for Conference League final after clashes

Tirana (AFP) – The residents of Tirana were nervously awaiting the Europa Conference League final between Roma and Feyenoord later on Wednesday hoping the violent clashes on the eve of the game do not carry over into the match.

The violence in the Albanian capital, where around 100,000 visiting supporters are expected for the biggest sporting event that the city has ever hosted, left 19 police officers injured on Tuesday evening.

The situation was calm overnight and on Wednesday morning after the violence of the night before in which one officer was stabbed while 60 mainly Italian supporters were arrested, police said.

The clashes erupted as police tried to stop a group of Feyenoord fans heading towards an area where Roma supporters were located.

They attacked police with bottles, stones, sticks and other objects, police official Albert Dervishaj told reporters.

Supporters of the Italian club also attacked police with sticks and stones, a police spokesman said earlier. According to an AFP reporter supporters clashed in at least three locations in Tirana.

One Albanian supporter of Roma was beaten with a chair by Feyenoord supporters.

On Wednesday morning, 80 Roma fans were sent home from the Adriatic port of Durres.

The injured officers and 10 people, including five Albanians, three Italians and two Dutch nationals, required medical treatment.

“Acts of violence are unworthy for supporters hailing from civilised countries,” said Ilir Cani, a 35-year-old Albanian engineer.

Endi Tufa, a sports analyst, told AFP the situation on Tuesday evening was “very dangerous”.

Tufa, reflecting the view of many in Tirana, voiced hope that the “evening of the match will be more calm since all will concentrate on the game”.

– Thousands without tickets –

Despite the massive influx of supporters, the venue for the final, Tirana’s National Arena, only has capacity for 21,000 spectators, meaning tens of thousands will be without a ticket.

Those who cannot attend the match will be divided into separate fan zones and will be able to watch the final on giant TV screens.

Police urged bars not to serve alcoholic drinks in glass bottles to prevent them being used as weapons in possible new clashes.

However, many Dutch fans were walking around with bottles and glasses of beer in their hands, according to an AFP reporter.

In a sign of the nervousness in the city, schools and public administration services were closed while traffic was banned in downtown Tirana.

Prior to the incidents, Albanian police said they have deployed 2,000 officers to ensure the match will be “transformed into a day of celebration”.

On Wednesday, Albanian police said they had backup from their Italian and Dutch colleagues, without revealing numbers.

After Tuesday’s incidents, police reinforcements were sent to Tirana from other Albanian cities.

A police spokesman said the incidents on Tuesday could have “easily deteriorated” but that it had been a “test that we managed to pass” and that officers had “succeeded in mastering the situation with great professionalism”.