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By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO, Feb. 4 (Reuters) - Three days after 100 fans attacked and robbed Corinthians players at their training centre, the furious squad made an extraordinary threat to strike and said they need more protection from angry supporters.
"We publicly offer our support to an imminent strike proposed for this weekend by the professional players union of Sao Paulo state in a bid to improve working conditions for the employees of the country's football teams," the players said in a statement on the club's website (www.corinthians.com.br).
"We Corinthians players demand that we get security in which to work in peace."
Angry fans, some armed with sticks and iron bars, cut a hole in the perimeter fence and invaded the team's training ground on the outskirts of Sao Paulo on Saturday, days after the team lost 5-1 to Santos.
Peru striker Paolo Guerrero was grabbed around the neck by one fan and other players reportedly had money and cell phones stolen.
Most of the squad had not yet appeared for training and locked themselves in their rooms.
The invasion was the worst in several years at Corinthians, one of Brazil's biggest and most passionately clubs.
In the past, fans have abused players, scratched their cars and physically attacked them, even in the middle of games.
Such instances are not limited to Corinthians and such incidents have taken on a new visibility with fan violence on the increase in Brazil and with the World Cup finals little more than four months away.
December saw some of the worst fan violence in years, with three people taken to hospital after supporters fought pitch battles during the match between Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama.
At least 30 people were killed in and around stadiums last year, according to academics who study the issue.
Corinthians players warned more violence was imminent unless action is taken and said they erred by not sitting out last Sunday's 2-1 loss to Ponte Preta, the team's third straight defeat.
"We admit we've been weak on the field in recent months and weaker still in taking to the field last weekend when, in truth, we should have drawn a line and called the attention of the country, authorities, clubs and league organisers to the tragedy that is about to happen if nothing is done to halt the violence at all levels of football," the players said.
"We failed because of the contractual risks the club has with sponsors, the Paulista Football Federation and the Globo television channel and out of respect to true Corinthians fans. If that isn't commitment to (Corinthians) then there's nothing more we can say."
Nevertheless, although the statement was the clearest yet by any team, questions have also been asked about the complicity of Corinthians' management.
Even though the supporters attacked his players, coach Mano Menezes held a meeting with five representatives to discuss their concerns. Corinthians are just one of the teams with close ties to big organised fan groups.
Such groups are often given special treatment at Brazilian clubs. Some teams offer these hard core fans free tickets to games and others pay their buses to away matches.
Corinthians said they are cooperating with police enquiries into the invasion and attacks and they called on fans and media to help them identify the culprits.
The team's next match is at home to Bragantino on Wednesday in the Paulista state championship. (Editing by Rex Gowar)
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