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Thursday, April 8, 1999 Published at 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK

World: Europe

Serbia's football friends

Players get their message across

As a gesture of solidarity a Greek first division football team has played a friendly match in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

Kosovo: Special Report
With the Yugoslav people facing daily Nato air strikes, AEK Athens players travelled via Hungary on a bus in order to play the fixture against Partizan Belgrade - one of Yugoslavia's top teams.

Serbian television broadcast the game live on Wednesday afternoon.

It ended in the 56th minute with the score 1-1, when players and fans ran on to the pitch and hugged each other.

Greek Journalist Makki Marseilles: The atmosphere at the game was "quite extraordinary"
Few typical soccer slogans were chanted. One giant banner read:"The Orthodox people fight together against the devil's bombs".

Organisers say the proceeds of the game will be donated to Yugoslav humanitarian organisations. One jounrnalist watching the game said the match was like one big party.

If UN sanctions are imposed on Yugoslavia for its action in Kosovo, then its football teams face being thrown out of international competitions.

Several international matches have already been postponed, including games involving Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, because of the Nato bombings.

AEK Athens President Dimitris Melissanidis, who proposed the match, said: "We've won many titles on the field, this will be a humanitarian title."

The group, comprised of 16 volunteer players, club officials and politicians, arrived in Belgrade shortly before their fixture on Wednesday, after spending the night before in Budapest.

The one-hour match was arranged to be played during the Orthodox Holy week as Greek football takes an Easter break.

Greek dilemma

The game highlights a dilemma facing the Greek Government which is a Nato member.

Many Greeks have strongly objected to Nato air strikes, with almost daily street protests around the country.

The largest protest held so far took place in Athens on Wednesday evening, involving a crowd of thousands. It passed off peacefully.

The solidarity between Greeks and Serbs stems from the traditional ties of two orthodox Christian countries.

[ image: The Serb authorities say they cannot guarantee the visitors' safety in Belgrade]
The Serb authorities say they cannot guarantee the visitors' safety in Belgrade
The Greek Government has given logistical support for the Nato alliance, but has ruled out participation in any possible ground intervention in Kosovo.

On Tuesday women's organisations marched to the American embassy to show their anger and there were also protests in Thessalonika.

The Greek orthodox church from the beginning of the crisis has urged Greeks to support their orthodox Serbian brothers.

And church leaders, professional organisations and trade unions have organised trucks to transport food and medicines from Athens to Belgrade.

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