GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) — Police have defended using pepper spray and batons against Schalke fans displaying a Macedonian banner during the Champions League qualifying match against Greek club PAOK, saying they feared dead and injured if rival supporters clashed.
Schalke criticized the local police and said its response to the tension was "disproportionate."
But police chief Klaus Sitzer, who commanded the police units at the match, said the measures were "the mildest but necessary response to preserve security at the match."
Sitzer said Thursday that about 2,000 Greek supporters had threatened to invade the pitch and attack Schalke fans because they felt provoked by the banner.
"In such a case life and limb of many would be threatened, even those uninvolved," police said in an earlier statement.
The police then decided to remove the banner by force and used pepper spray because officers were attacked by sticks and kicked as they moved in. Police said 30 people needed medical attention and had to have their eyes washed out.
"The banner doesn't justify the threat of violence by Greek fans," Schalke managing director Peter Peters said.
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