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French runners trade blows in extraordinary incident

MONACO (Reuters) - French team mates Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad traded blows in an extraordinary incident after the 1,500 meters at the Monaco Diamond League on Friday.

Baala finished ninth more than three seconds behind winner Silas Kiplagat of Kenya while Mekhissi-Benabbad, the Olympic 3,000 steeplechase silver medallist, came in 11th almost two seconds further back.

"Seeing Mahiedine so dejected after the race I wanted to comfort him, something he certainly would never have done for me," Olympic 1,500 bronze medallist Baala told reporters.

"I wanted to give him a friendly pat on the head but he took it badly."

At one point Baala head-butted Mekhissi-Benabbad who responded by swinging his arms wildly as he threw a series of punches, some of which missed their intended target.

The pair were separated on the track but the row did not stop there as they exchanged strong words in the media zone after Mekhissi-Benabbad appeared to slap Baala.

"I'm going to break you in two," an angry Baala responded.

Around 20 minutes later, Baala expressed his regret at the incident.

"At such an event, in front of a full stadium, it's a shame to give a bad image of athletics," he said. "We've just given athletics a bad name and a bad representation of North Africans."

(Reporting by Sophie Greuil, writing by Tom Pilcher in London, editing by Tony Jimenez)