- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2011

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (AP) - River Plate was relegated to the Argentine second division for the first time in its 110-year history Sunday, sparking ugly street battles between police and fans with dozens injured inside and outside River’s Monumental stadium.

The drop came after a 1-1 draw with Belgrano in the second leg _ Belgrano won the first leg 2-0 _ of a demotion playoff. Mariano Pavone scored in the sixth minute for River, and Guillermo Farre tied it in the 62nd.

Violence broke a minute before the match was over. Angry fans pelted players with objects thrown from the stands, and police replied with high-powered fire hoses.

As fans were pounded with jets of water, River Plate’s players huddled on the pitch, many in tears, including goalkeeper Juan Pablo Carrizo.

The mayhem quickly spread outside River’s 50,000-seat stadium. Alberto Crescenti, head of emergency medical services, said at least 55 people had been injured, some of them police.

“Right now there is no fatality,” Crescenti said.

Police used water cannons outside the stadium immediately after the match, hoping to disperse fans quickly. Fans who poured out of the stadium faced police with batons and shields at every exit, while attack dogs were ready and helicopters hovered over the stadium.

The area outside the stadium, located in the leafy northern suburb of Nunez, looked like a war zone with police battling hand to hand with River Plate hooligans, who are known by the colorful nickname “Los Borrachos del Tablon” _ the Drunks in the Stands.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas, and brought in mounted units to try to keep order.

Young, angry fans responded by throwing rocks at police, setting fire to rubbish bins and vehicles, and ripping down metal street barriers. Smoke also billowed from one end of the stadium with reports concession areas and other parts of the stadium had been set on fire.

Fans were also seen ripping up stadium seats and using part of them as weapons in fights.

Half a half dozen ambulances entered the stadium area about 45 minutes after the match ended, with live television coverage showing medics working on the injured and street fights erupting just a few feet away.

As the troublemakers were driven away from the stadium, there were reports of stores and shops being broken into on one of Buenos Aires’ most famous thoroughfares _ Avenida Del Libertador.

Fearing this kind of violence, Argentine authorities deployed about 2,200 police _ reported to be the largest security operation for a football match _ to control the crowd of 50,000.

Suggestions to play the match in an empty stadium were turned down by interior ministry officials after consulting with the Argentine Football Association and its president Julio Grondona.

The violence was predicted. On Wednesday, the first leg in Corboda was stopped for 20 minutes early in the second half after River Plate hooligans ripped through a fence and raced across the field taunting and pushing River Plate players.

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