Turkey rules out halting league after Fenerbahce attack

Burak Akinci

Ankara (AFP) - Turkey ruled out Sunday any suspension of its football league after a gun attack on the coach carrying one of the country's top teams Fenerbahce that has been branded as "cowardly".

"I don't think this is a situation that requires a suspension or cancellation" (of the league), Interior Minister Sebahattin Ozturk told reporters in the capital Ankara.

He spoke after the Istanbul club called for the championship to be halted after a bus carrying its players home from a match on the Black Sea coast was hit by gunfire.

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"We consider that as long as this attack is not solved in a way that satisfies Fenerbahce and public opinion, a suspension of the championship is inevitable," the club said on its website.

"Blood ran and football was silenced. Finding and punishing the culprits is of vital importance for Fenerbahce," it added.

The bus was shot at late Saturday as the Turkish Super Lig leaders passed through the northeastern town of Trabzon following their away game in nearby Rize, where they beat Rizespor 5-1.

No players were hurt in the attack, but the driver was wounded in the face. Fenerbahce vice president Mahmut Uslu accused the attackers of trying to "crash the bus and kill the players".

Several international stars were on board including Brazilian midfielder Diego Ribas da Cunha and Raul Meireles from Portugal. Dutch international winger Dirk Kuyt had not travelled to the game.

It was "a cowardly and inhuman" attack, Sports Minister Cagatay Kilic said.

Media reports said the shots caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle but that a team security official managed to slam on the brakes to prevent it plunging into a ravine.

The team was heading to Trabzon airport to catch a flight back to Istanbul and was later given an armed escort to the airport.

The Turkish Football Federation (TFF) decided Sunday to delay a Turkish Cup match slated for Tuesday between Fenerbahce and Mersin Idmanyurdu Klubu.

- Bullets, not stones -

Pictures of the bus showed a damaged windshield on the driver's side.

Trabzon governor Abdil Celil Oz confirmed the gun attack and said the driver's life was not in danger.

"At first we thought stones had been thrown at the bus but police investigators at the scene have concluded it was an armed attack," he told the television station 360.

The governor said he received a phone call from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a supporter of the Istanbul club, asking him about the investigation into the shooting.

Investigators have found a rifle near the motorway where the football team's bus was fired upon, according to news channel CNN-Turk. No arrests have been reported for the moment.

The gun attack came after a violent week in Turkey that saw a prosecutor killed in a hostage standoff in Istanbul in which his two radical leftist captors also died. Another member of the same group was killed after she attacked a police station.

Turkey's football authorities issued a statement condemning the attack on the bus "in the strongest possible terms" and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice "immediately".

Turkish media reacted with shock to the shooting, an unprecedented attack on a team in the football-mad country.

"A black mark for Turkish football," said the daily Hurriyet newspaper.

Last June an Istanbul court ordered the retrial of Fenerbahce's chairman who had been jailed over a match-fixing scandal.

Aziz Yildirim was first sentenced to jail and fined 1.3 million lira ($580,000) in 2012 for match fixing during the 2010-2011 season and for forming a criminal gang.

In all, 93 people were convicted in the case and European football's governing body UEFA barred Fenerbahce from the Champions' League for two seasons as a result.

Yildirim served about a year of his original sentence before being freed pending on appeal in July 2012.

Fenerbahce, which won its 19th Turkish league title this season, currently tops the table ahead of its Istanbul archrivals Galatasaray and Besiktas.

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