TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's soccer federation is calling on Albanian authorities to stop the extradition to Serbia of a man who reportedly flew a drone with a nationalist banner over a stadium in Serbia, a move that prompted fan violence.
Ismail Morinaj was arrested in Croatia in June based on a warrant from Serbia. A court in Dubrovnik agreed this week to extradite the 35-year-old Albanian to Belgrade.
An Albanian Football Federation statement on Saturday called on Albania's government to intervene "to stop the extradition of Ismail Morinaj to Serbia." The federation assured Morinaj's family it would keep fighting to prevent his extradition.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has negotiated with Croatian authorities in the last two days on the matter, the federation said.
Justice Minister Gazmend Bardhi also has formally asked Croatian authorities not to approve the Serbian request, arguing that Morinaj could "suffer from politically motivated persecution or discrimination" if sent to Serbia.
A group of Albanians called the Red and Black Fans held a peaceful rally Saturday in front of the prime minister's office in the Albanian capital of Tirana, urging the government to do its utmost to release Morinaj. Holding national flags, including the Croatian one, and banners they called on the government "not to betray the people."
Albanian national team players, writing on their Facebook pages, described Morinaj's arrest as absurd and called for his release.
Morinaj, who is from the northeastern Kukes area but lives in Italy, has been a regular at the Albanian national team's away matches.
His brother Xhevair complained to Report TV about the government's lack of attention to the case, saying Ismail's life would be in danger in Serbia.
"We call on the Albanian state to intervene and stop extradition to Serbia,"
During the fans' rally, Xhevair repeated his threat that the family would take "extreme acts" if his brother was extradited to Serbia.
Violence interrupted an October 2014 European qualifying match between the Serbia and Albania when a drone with an Albanian banner appeared over the pitch. The 0-0 game was suspended after Serbian fans injured some Albanian players who rushed a Serbian player who pulled down the banner.
UEFA, soccer's governing body in Europe, ultimately awarded Albania the match victory, helping the tiny western Balkan country win a spot in the Euro 2016 finals, its first major tournament.
Follow Semini at http://twitter.com/lsemini