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Fan protests disrupt Bundesliga again in Stuttgart’s 3-1 win over Mainz

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STUTTGART, Germany (AP) — Stuttgart’s push to qualify for the Champions League gathered strength Sunday in a 3-1 Bundesliga win over struggling Mainz that was interrupted by fan protests.

Maximilian Mittelstädt and Jamie Leweling scored two goals for Stuttgart in quick succession just before halftime. Deniz Undav, on loan from Brighton, extended Stuttgart’s lead with his 14th Bundesliga goal of the season and fifth in three games, before Ludovic Ajorque responded for Mainz.

Stuttgart is third, 12 points off leader Bayer Leverkusen. Mainz is 17th in the 18-team league and has won one game all season as relegation looms after 15 seasons in the top flight.

Fans threw objects including tennis balls onto the field, causing repeated stoppages, and a total of 13 minutes were added on to the first half.

Fans have been protesting for months against the league’s plans to sell a stake of revenue to an outside investor. Most German clubs are majority-controlled by their fans and supporters fear the deal would dilute their influence and make executives less accountable.

Protests have escalated since clubs in the top two divisions voted in December to proceed with talks with two prospective buyers, both private equity investors.

“Are you kidding us? New open vote now,” read one large Stuttgart banner Sunday, repeating a key demand from fans, that the process is re-run without a secret ballot so fans know how their clubs’ executives vote.

Kickoff was delayed by protests in Leverkusen’s win over Bayern Munich on Saturday, and another game between Union Berlin and Wolfsburg had delays adding up to a half hour after fans repeatedly threw tennis balls onto the field.

At one second-division game on Friday, fans attached bicycle locks to a goalpost to delay the game and waved a banner showing an executive’s face in crosshairs.

Also Sunday, Andrej Kramaric rescued a 1-1 draw for Hoffenheim at home to Cologne, scoring with a low shot deep into stoppage time. That canceled out Max Finkgräfe’s first career goal for Cologne from a free kick.

There was a brief stoppage when Cologne fans threw apples in a protest against the investment deal.

Cologne stays 16th, in the relegation playoff spot. Eighth-place Hoffenheim, coached by American Pellegrino Matarazzo, is on a run of seven games without a win.

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