Riot police detain dozens of fans outside the Melina Merkouri...

Riot police detain dozens of fans outside the Melina Merkouri indoor stadium, in western Athens, early Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. A Greek policeman has been severely injured as a mob of volleyball fans poured out of an Athens arena and attacked riot police. A flare shot by a fan severed an artery in the thigh of the 30-year-old officer Thursday night. Credit: AP/Yorgos Matthaios

ATHENS, Greece — This weekend's top-level soccer matches in Greece have been postponed following serious clashes involving sports fans that left a police officer in critical condition after he was hit by a flare.

Greek league organizers said weekend matches would be rescheduled after it failed to fill referee positions for key matches.

The decision announced Friday followed a series of violent sport-related incidents and came hours after police detained more than 400 people following the riots outside a volleyball stadium in Athens.

Violent groups of soccer fans often choose other sports where their clubs are represented, and have a lower level of policing, to carry out attacks.

“The perpetrators of these horrendous crimes have nothing to do with sport. ... They are common criminals who threaten and sometimes take human lives and destroy property,” government spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said.

The latest clashes occurred during a volleyball match between the city’s two largest clubs, Panathinaikos and Olympiakos — who are fierce rivals on the soccer field and in many other sports. Scores of fans attacked riot police outside the stadium, hurling flares, gasoline bombs and rocks, while police responded by firing tear gas.

Doctors at a nearby state hospital said a 31-year-old police officer was in a coma after a flare hit his left thigh, causing serious arterial damage and extensive blood loss that triggered a cardiac arrest.

“One of our police officers has suffered a murderous attack,” Giannis Oikonomou, a minister for public order, said. “This attack must not and will not go unpunished. It is a question of upholding the law and of justice. The Greek police for a very long time – like the whole of our society – has been paying a heavy price for fan violence.”

Police were questioning the detained suspects at a large holding facility near the scene of the clashes, outside the 1,800-seat Melina Mercouri indoor stadium in the Agios Ioannis Rentis area west of the capital. Residue tests were being carried out on the suspects' fingers and clothing to try to determine in any of the people detained had handled flares, authorities said.

Earlier they recovered fragments of burnt clothing, flares and remnants of improvised incendiary devices.

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