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Protesters interrupt FIFA congress, demand 'Israel out'

May 29, 2015 2:25 P.M. (Updated: May 29, 2015 6:04 P.M.)
Security agents hold a demonstrator at the FIFA Congress May 29, 2015. (AFP/Michael Buholzer)
ZURICH (AFP) - Protesters briefly interrupted the FIFA congress on Friday as the world football's governing body prepares to vote later on whether to suspend Israel from the organization.

The two female protesters halted president Sepp Blatter's opening address, waving red cards at FIFA representatives and chanting "Israel out!" before being escorted out of the hall by security guards.

A group of around 150 protesters supporting the vote had gathered to chant outside Zurich's Hallenstadion before the congress started.

Blatter apologized for the brief delay and called for security guards in the building to be more vigilant.

Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

It also opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank considered illegal by the international community and according to international law.

"Our requests are clear, just and fair: Freedom of movement, end of racism and expulsion of all teams from illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine competing in the Israeli league," Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub said earlier this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the bid, telling Israeli reporters Thursday that the Palestinian initative "is very serious and we will oppose them with all possible force."

Netanyahu made the remarks shortly after meeting with Blatter during his last minute visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to try and find a solution and prevent the bid.

"I told Blatter that by allowing the suspension of Israel, it would allow the destruction of FIFA," Netanyahu told the Israeli press.

Blatter also opposed the vote saying it brought politics into football, and that Israel has not breached FIFA's statutes.

During his visit, Blatter reportedly proposed a "peace match" between the Palestinian and Israeli national teams, and said he received verbal confirmation from Netanyahu that restrictions on Palestinian players would be eased.

Palestinian National Team player Sameh Maraabah was reportedly detained by Israeli forces shortly after Blatter's visit with Netanyahu at the Allenby crossing for "security reasons."

Before protesters at the FIFA congress made their move Friday, Blatter had called for "discipline and fair play" from the FIFA representatives as they seek to resolve the issue.

The scheduled vote needs a two-thirds majority of the 209 members to succeed.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.

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