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Greece Suspends Soccer League After Incident Involving Russian Owner


Russian-born Greek businessman and owner of PAOK Salonika, Ivan Savvides (center) takes the field , pictured with what appears to be a gun in his holster during his soccer team's game with rivals AEK Athens on March 11.

Greece has indefinitely suspended its soccer league after the Russian owner of PAOK Thessaloniki marched onto the field carrying a gun to protest a disputed goal.

The world soccer body on March 12 urged Greek authorities to take swift action against PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis or face a possible suspension.

Savvidis walked onto the field twice on March 11 accompanied by bodyguards, and appeared to be carrying a pistol in a holster around his waist. He made no move to use the weapon at any time.

Fernando Varela had just scored in the 90th minute for PAOK against AEK Athens, putting the hosts ahead 1-0 in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The referee signaled a goal, but then seemed to disallow it for offside. The match was eventually abandoned.

Police said on March 12 that they were investigating Savvidis, who holds a gun license, for illegal entry onto the field and for possession of an object that could cause harm in a sporting venue.

Tatyana Gordina, a spokeswoman for Savvidis's Russia-based Agrocom Group, stressed that Savvidis had not made any threatening gestures.

"There were no threats made by Ivan Savvidis, especially not involving the use of a weapon, during yesterday's match," she said. "There was an emotional walk out onto the field, probably a breach of sporting regulations, and nothing more. Most of the headlines in the Greek press exaggerate the facts."

The incident was condemned by the European and world soccer bodies.

Giorgos Vasileiadis, Greece's deputy minister for sport, met with Prime Minister Aleksis Tsipras and said afterwards that league games had been suspended.

Savvidis, who took over PAOK in 2012, is a Russian-Greek businessman born in Georgia who made his money with the privatization of a cigarette factory in southern Russia in the 1990s.

From 2003 to 2011, he served as a Duma deputy for the United Russia party, which is closely associated with President Vladimir Putin.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP
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