Ugly scenes reportedly sparked after a banner reading ‘Justice for Balochistan’ was flown overhead
Police were forced to intervene as violent clashes between rival supporters marred the World Cup match between Pakistan and Afghanistan in Leeds on Saturday.
Political relations between the south Asian neighbors have been marked by years of distrust and blame. The ugly scenes at Headingley were sparked by the flying of a banner reading: “Justice for Balochistan.”
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest and poorest province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, is rife with Islamist, separatist and sectarian insurgencies. The Pakistani military has been waging war on militants there since 2004, and security forces are frequently targeted.
Eyewitnesses told AFP there were clashes in the stands at the start of the match, which spread outside the ground until security officers intervened. “Thanks to the intervention from security personnel the situation did not go out of control,” said Ahmed Zai, from Peshawar, who lives in nearby Bradford.
A Pakistani journalist was also attacked by the crowd, stopping him from shooting video.
A statement from West Yorkshire police said: “At 11:55 a.m. today police received reports of some trouble outside the ground linked to people trying to get in. Officers attended to disperse the group without any issues and remained on patrol in the area.”
The International Cricket Council said in a statement: “We are aware of some scuffles among a minority of fans and are currently working with the venue security team and the local police force, West Yorkshire Police, to ensure there are no further incidents.” It added: “We do not condone any sort of political messages at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup and will work with West Yorkshire police to deal with and understand why this has happened and to ensure it does not happen again.”
The 17,000-capacity stadium was packed for the match, with Pakistan fans outnumbering Afghanistan supporters.