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CONCACAF majority suspend acting president

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - The split in CONCACAF took another twist on Saturday when acting president Lisle Austin was temporarily suspended for 'possible violations' of its statutes but declared the move against him "illegal."

But Austin said only he -- as president -- could call an executive committee meeting and therefore the decision to suspend him had no validity.

The organization has now had three presidents inside a week and the dispute appears to have taken on a regional dimension with North and Central American representatives taking control from the Caribbean.

Hawit said in a statement: "We are clearly passing through a difficult time. However, I steadfastly believe that CONCACAF will overcome these challenges and reach even greater heights."

Austin, describing Saturday's action as "ultra vires and illegal," said he had been "denied the opportunity of a hearing" and had not even heard the charges being leveled against him.

The move against Austin comes after the Barbadian earlier this week attempted to fire Chuck Blazer, general secretary of CONCACAF, with the American insisting he remained in office.

BODY DIVIDED

Saturday's statement was in the name of 'the majority of CONCACAF executive committee members" -- Hawit, Mexican soccer chief Justino Compean, Ariel Alvarado of Panama and U.S. federation president Sunil Gulati.

The announcement came just a day before the 20th anniversary edition of CONCACAF's premier event, the 12-nation Gold Cup, kicks off at a sold-out Cowbys Stadium in Dallas.

But Hawit said: "...we are confident this year's edition will be our best ever. I trust it will help bring everyone's attention back to where it belongs -- the field."

To a large extent there now appear to be two CONCACAF bodies operating independently and against each other.

Firstly, there is the North and Central American majority on the executive, which has control of the organisation's office and staff in New York.

Then there are the remains of suspended president Jack Warner's operation in the Caribbean issuing statements out of Port of Spain.

BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS

Barbadian Austin was placed in charge only on Sunday after Warner was suspended by FIFA pending an investigation into bribery allegations.

The allegations stated that money was distributed to Caribbean federation representatives at a meeting where Asian Football Confederation chief Bin Hammam was putting forward his bid to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.

Qatari Bin Hammam was suspended and withdrew from the presidential election although he has denied any wrongdoing.

Warner, who has threatened to unleash a "football tsunami" has also protested his innocence and says allegations against him are an attack on the "entire Caribbean."

On Wednesday, Austin announced he had hired a Miami-based accounting firm to undertake a 'forensic audit' of the past five year's accounts at CONCACAF.

With Warner and Austin now barred, Jamaican Horace Burrell is the solitary Caribbean member of the executive.

Warner has promised to make public on Sunday an email he sent to Blatter immediately after the meeting with Bin Hammam.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; editing by Alan Baldwin and Ken Ferris)