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Drone stunt sparks soccer riot

Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely operated drone during the Euro 2016 group I football match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade on October 14, 2014.
ANDREJ ISAKOVIC | AFP | Getty Image
Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic grabs a flag with Albanian national symbols flown by a remotely operated drone during the Euro 2016 group I football match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade on October 14, 2014.

A drone caused a mass brawl at an international soccer game in Europe on Tuesday evening which forced the match to be abandoned.

The already politically tense European Championship qualifying match between Serbia and Albania was being played in the Serbian capital of Belgrade when, in the 40th minute, the game was briefly stopped. A small unmanned craft appeared over the players' heads trailing an Albanian flag. The Serbian defender Stefan Mitrovic then grabbed the flag, sparking a tussle with the Albanian players who were trying to keep it out of Serbian hands.

A violent melee then ensued between Albanian and Serbian players with team officials and substitutes rushing onto the field to help their colleagues. Riot police then became involved when fans invaded the pitch and flares were thrown. The players retreated into the tunnel before English referee Mark Atkinson decided to abandon the game with the match still goalless.

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There is a long history of tensions between the two Balkan countries. The turbulence in the region centers on the Republic of Kosovo, which contains a mix of Serb and Albanian inhabitants. It declared independence from Serbia back in February 2008 and has been recognized by the United States and major European Union countries. However, Serbia and ally Russia refuse to recognize the state.

The flag flown by the drone on Tuesday evening depicted the region of "Greater Albania", according to Reuters news agency, an area that includes Kosovo.

Serbian state television RTS reported that the brother of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama - who attended the game - had been arrested on suspicion of instigating the stunt. Reuters reported that Albanian Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri refuted this, saying that he had no knowledge of the arrest and said it was "speculation."

Serbian riot police scuffles with angry Serbian supporters during the EURO 2016 group I football match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade on October 14, 2014.
ALEXA STANKOVIC | AFP | Getty Images
Serbian riot police scuffles with angry Serbian supporters during the EURO 2016 group I football match between Serbia and Albania in Belgrade on October 14, 2014.

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Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets research at Standard Bank, said that the incident underscored the continuing challenges in the region.

"One saving grace, I guess this could have been much worse - at least no one seems to have been injured, despite the fact that thousands of Albanian supporters were marching through downtown Belgrade, albeit apparently not actually allowed into the game itself," he said in a research note."

The word "drone" has tried to escape its negative connotations and had commonly been associated with the U.S. military who have used the new technology in the skies over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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However, that image seems to be slowly changing with Amazon, Google, UPS and Deutsche Post DHL all eager to compete in the space with the delivery of goods via the unmanned crafts. Boston-based research company Lux predicted in a new report on Tuesday that the market for commercial uses of drones will grow to $1.7 billion in 2025, driven by a broad range of sectors but mainly by agriculture.

Regulatory approval is seen as a major hurdle for the technology. Lux Research analyst Maryanna Saenko called the current state of regulation "chaotic." In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration is due to issue preliminary guidelines on the commercial use of drones in November but for now most commercial use is strictly prohibited.