Protests at Davis Cup tie
Protestors clash with police outside Israel-Sweden Davis Cup match.
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2009 18:39 GMT

Protestors from the network 'Stop the Match' demonstrate in Malmo, Sweden [EPA]
Sweden took a 2-1 Davis Cup tennis lead over Israel behind closed doors on Saturday when Robert Lindstedt and Simon Aspelin won the doubles over Andy Ram and Amir Hadad.

While demonstrators protested in Malmo against Israel's participation in the competition, Lindstedt and Aspelin needed four sets to oust Ram and Hadad on the second day of the first-round match, which has been overshadowed by security concerns.

The Swedes triumphed 6-4 1-6 7-6 6-4 against the Israeli pair, who were competing together for the first time in the absence of Ram's regular partner Jonathan Erlich.

More than 6,000 protesters demonstrated outside the fences surrounding the Baltic Hall, which has been closed to the public for the three-day tie against the wishes of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Israeli players.

Riot police

Around 1,000 police officers were on duty in the southern harbour city, which has a large Muslim community.

Several hundred demonstrators who tried to break through security to reach the hall were repelled by riot police after a brief clash.

Some 200 demonstrators pelted police with stones, fireworks and paint bombs, while the organisers of the official demonstration shouted at the masked protestors not to use violence.

Police said they had detained 90 people.

Tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours have been heightened by the three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza which killed 1,300 Palestinians and 14 Israelis.

Four hundred media representatives, sponsors and guests were present in the hall to watch the doubles on Saturday and Ram criticised the city authorities for keeping fans out.

Israel's Harel Levy returns a shot in the empty arena [EPA]
'Stupid decision'

"It's a stupid decision," he said.

"It's terrible for both teams.

"We like to perform in front of the crowds, not in front of empty seats. Playing like this is like playing a practice match."

Only once before has a Davis Cup tie been held without spectators.

The first time was in 1975, also in Sweden, when Bjorn Borg and his team mates beat Chile, which was ruled at the time by dictator Augusto Pinochet, in Bastad.

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