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Greece's league suspended over gun incident

Greece indefinitely suspended its soccer league on Monday, a day after the gun-toting owner of PAOK Thessaloniki marched onto the field following a disputed goal in a match.

PAOK owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis invades into the pitch during a Greek League soccer match between PAOK and AEK Athens in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, March 11, 2018. (InTime Sports via AP)

FIFA urged Greek authorities to take swift action against PAOK owner Ivan Savvidis or face a possible suspension.

Ivan Savvidis walked onto the field twice accompanied by bodyguards, and appeared to be carrying a pistol in a holster around his waist. He made no move to use the weapon at any time.

Fernando Varela had just scored in the 90th minute on Sunday for PAOK against AEK Athens, putting the hosts ahead 1-0 in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The referee signaled a goal but then seemed to disallow it for offside. The match was eventually abandoned.

PAOK owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, second from left, approaches AEK Athens' Manager Operation Department Vassilis Dimitriadis, center, as his bodyguard and PAOK's players Fernando Varela, second from right, and Djalma Campos, right, try to stop him during a Greek League soccer match between PAOK and AEK Athens in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, March 11, 2018. (InTime Sports via AP)

"The FIFA monitoring committee ... strongly condemns the recent incidents in Greece and urges all national football stakeholders to act immediately to put an end to the unacceptable situation arising in Greek football," a FIFA statement said.

Giorgos Vasileiadis, Greece's deputy minister for sport, met with Greece's prime minister and said league play was suspended, adding it would not restart "if there is not a new, clear framework agreed to by all so we can move forward with conditions and regulations."

Greece has faced an unusually volatile league championship this season, with traditionally dominant Olympiakos — which has failed to win the title only twice in the past 21 years — in third place, behind leader AEK and PAOK.

In this Sunday, March 11, 2018 photo, PAOK owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, second right, approaches AEK Athens' Manager Operation Department Vassilis Dimitriadis, second left, as his bodyguard and PAOK's player Fernando Varela from Portugal, center, try to stop him during the Greek League soccer match between PAOK and AEK Athens in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.  (AP Photo)

Police said earlier Monday they were investigating Savvidis, who holds a gun license, for illegal entry onto the field and for possession of an object that could cause harm in a sporting venue.

Tatyana Gordina, the deputy CEO in charge of corporate communications at Savvidis' Russia-based Agrocom Group, stressed Savvidis had not made any threatening gestures.

"There were no threats made by Ivan Savvidis, especially not involving the use of a weapon, during yesterday's match," she said. "There was an emotional walk out onto the field, probably a breach of sporting regulations, and nothing more. Most of the headlines in the Greek press exaggerate the facts."

FIFA criticized Savvidis' move.

Greece's Sports Minister Giorgos Vasileiadis, speaks to the media after his meeting with the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Monday, March 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

"First of all, FIFA fully condemns such behavior," the sport's governing body said in a statement. "Given that this incident occurred in the context of a national competition, any disciplinary measure to be imposed falls under the jurisdiction of the deciding bodies of the Greek FA."

European soccer's governing body also condemned the incident. UEFA added that because it "occurred in a domestic competition, any disciplinary measure to be imposed falls under the jurisdiction of the relevant bodies of the Hellenic Football Federation."

Vasileiadis, who is Greece's Deputy Culture and Sports Minister, said Greek sporting authorities were "in open contact with UEFA" and would be holding meetings with the Greek soccer federation later Monday to discuss further moves.

In this Sunday, March 11, 2018 photo, bodyguards hold back PAOK owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, centre, during a Greek League soccer match between PAOK and AEK Athens in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, March 11, 2018.  (AP Photo)

"The government for the past three years has given great battles to manage to clean up the troubled football sector. We have won a lot, but much more remains to be done," the minister said. "In any case, we will not allow all this effort to be endangered, we will not allow phenomena of the past to be resurrected."

Savvidis, who took over PAOK in 2012, is a Russian-Greek businessman born in Georgia during the Soviet era who made his money with the privatization of a cigarette factory in southern Russia in the 1990s. His Agrocom company has extensive interests in tobacco, agriculture and real estate. He spent two terms in the Russian parliament from 2003-11.