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Azerbaijan soccer federation asks for support amid conflict

GENEVA (AP) — Azerbaijan’s soccer federation asked other UEFA members for support on Thursday, citing a 13-year-old player killed in the conflict with Armenia. A decades-old dispute over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, controlled by ethnic Armenians within Azerbaijan’s territory, has flared up in the past week.

“We call for unity of the football family all over Europe at this difficult time to condemn the aggression against the civilians,” the Azerbaijan federation wrote, “especially the youths and to stop involving young children of all nationalities in hostilities at all levels.”

The letter, signed by the federation's executive vice president Elkhan Mammadov, asked senior officials at UEFA member federations to “share our pain, show compassion” by using the hashtag StopChildMurder.

A youth soccer league player, Shahriyar Gurbanov, was killed when his home city around 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the conflict zone was shelled by Armenian forces, the Azeri soccer body said. A letter of condolence from FIFA’s secretary general, Fatma Samoura, was published on the Azeri federation’s website.

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia since the Soviet Union broke up in the 1990s have affected their soccer relations. After the neighboring countries refused to play each other in a qualifying group for the 2008 European Championship, UEFA has separated their national and club teams in its tournament draws.

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