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Swastika defaces European Championship qualifier between Croatia and Italy

The football world was scandalized after unknown assailants have chemically imprinted a swastika into Split's Poljud stadium at Croatia's Euro qualifier on Friday. Croatia's president says he's outraged.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic called for immediate investigations and stern punishments for the perpetrators of a swastika imprinted on the pitch at the stadium, where Croatia played Italy on Friday evening.

"This act has inflicted immeasurable damage on the reputation of Croatian citizens and their homeland all over the world," the president said in a statement on Saturday. "We must finally put a stop to such things."

The swastika, which was chemically burned into the stadium's pitch, was only visible when the floodlights came on. Despite efforts by ground crew to blot out the Nazi symbol at halftime, the swastika remained visible throughout the match.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the swastika on the pitch," Grabab-Kitarovic said. "I demand an immediate investigation and a decisive response from the relevant institutions to find and process the perpetrators."

Friday's European championship qualifier, which ended as a 1-1 draw, was played behind closed doors. Croatia received a one-match sanction after fans chanted racist slogans during a home game against Norway in March.

Croatian Football Federation press officer Tomislav Pacak said that football's European governing body UEFA had been notified of the incident, adding that it "was an obvious act of sabotage."

"We apologize to all viewers, our guests from Italy and the players from both teams, for the Nazi symbol on the Poljud Stadium grass," Pacak said in a statement.

Repeat offenses

This is not the first time Croatia fans have used Nazi symbols at a football match with Italy.

In 2006, Croatia fans formed a human swastika in the stands during a friendly with Italy in Livorno, AP news agency reported. The fans also gave Nazi salutes during the game.

Croatian footballing authorities have paid more than 500,000 euros ($562,000) in the past 10 years in fines for various violations. Croatian media say that UEFA is subjecting the country to special monitoring.

ls/ (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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