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New Raid Launched on Austrians
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Italian police and Austria's Olympic Games nordic squad were locked in a bitter wrangle yesterday after another doping raid targeted one of the team's Alpine bases.

The police operation, aimed at a chalet in Pragelato in the Italian Alps, came just two days after the authorities, acting on a tip-off, had raided another base used by Austrian biathlon and nordic skiers.

During that three-hour operation, 10 Austrian athletes were subject to drug tests. No results have yet been released.

According to a member of the team, the house targetted in the latest raid on Monday was being used by coaches rather than competitors and that there was just one member of the coaching staff inside at the time.

Pills were seized and furniture in the house overturned, said the team source.

The ANSA news agency said the house raided at Pragelato had been rented by Austrian Walter Mayer, the coach at the centre of the storm.

Mayer has been banned from all Olympics until Vancouver 2010 after being involved in blood doping at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.

Monday's police operation took place at around 8:00 pm local time (1900GMT) and was led by Turin prosecutor Gianfranco Colace.

Austrian officials reacted with fury to the latest episode.

"It's scandalous what they are doing to our competitors," the team's sporting director Markus Gandler said.

"Nothing was found. We have nothing to hide."

Otto Jung, the coach of cross country skier Martin Stockinger, said after the raid: "It was as if a bomb had hit the place, with drawers turned upside down, bags emptied and broken objects."

However, Italian judicial sources insist the latest raid was necessary.

"We singled out the apartment rented by Walter Mayer and carried out an inspection," said an official.

"Various materials were found inside that could prove useful to the investigation.

ANSA also quoted a Turin police officer who hit back at claims that they had trashed the building.

"We didn't cause any damage, we didn't break anything," he said.

"Everything was done in the presence of the Austrians. Obviously in Italy, just like in other parts of the world, we have our own methods of conducting an investigation but everything was within the law."

The developments represent the latest twist in a bizarre Olympic saga.

Mayer was sacked by the Austrian skiing federation after the weekend raids and was then arrested in southern Austria after he tried to break through a police road block.

The 48-year-old was charged with civil disorder and drink driving and spent a night in the cells after refusing to submit to a breath test.

He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital at Klangenfurt where one official said he was showing "suicidal tendencies" and appeared in court yesterday to face the charges.

Italian media have claimed that Saturday's investigators were examining a bag, allegedly containing syringes, thrown from the room occupied by Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottman, two of the 10 athletes tested who have since quit the village and returned to Austria.

Saturday's search and IOC out-of-competition drug raid was sparked by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that revealed that Mayer may be helping the Austrian athletes at Turin.

Leading figures behind Salzburg's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics acknowledged that recent raid has given them an image problem, but the city offered its full backing to the IOC's fight against doping.

"Our stance is clear. Salzburg is one hundred percent behind the IOC and their protocol," Heinz Schaden, the Mayor of Salzburg, told Austrian news agency APA.

(China Daily February 22, 2006)

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