3 Croats face hate crime charges in attack on Serbian team
Police arrive on the scene as Serbain water polo player Aleksandro Kralj stands on the shore in Split, Croatia.
The Associated Press
Published Monday, February 11, 2019 11:11AM EST
ZAGREB, Croatia -- Three people detained in Croatia over an attack on Serbian water polo team players at a seaside cafe face hate crime charges, police said Monday.
The incident in the Adriatic port city of Split, which occurred on Saturday before a regional league match between Mornar Split and Red Star Belgrade, further strained relations between Serbia and Croatia, which fought a war in the 1990s.
Red Star goalkeeper Alesandro Kralj said he was forced to jump into the freezing sea to avoid the attackers wielding sticks and a knife and "save myself." The Serbian team returned to Belgrade without playing the match.
In Belgrade, Kralj showed at a news conference what he said was a knife wound on his leg.
"The only solution I had at that moment was to jump into the sea," Kralj said. "The (Croatian) police also told me afterward that I did the right thing."
Tensions are still high between the two Balkan neighbours. Despite the looming nationalist hatred, regional Balkan leagues are played in many sports, including basketball.
"A few idiots can demolish what's been built for many years with great difficulty," Red Star director Nebojsa Covic said.
Croatian police said Monday that the incident started after Croatian hooligans saw Kralj wear a Red Star jersey under his track suit.
If found guilty, the Croatian suspects face up to 12 years in jail.
Serbia launched a formal protest to Croatia while the Croatian government condemned the attack and called for swift legal action against the attackers.