Third day of fan clashes before England-Russia football match


Marseille (AFP) – Football fans fought pitched battles for the third day in the French city of Marseille ahead of England’s European Championship clash with Russia on Saturday.

Bare-chested English and Russian supporters hurled bistro chairs and bottles in the historic Vieux-Port district where the cobbled streets were littered with broken glass and debris.

The air was thick with tear gas.

At least five people were hurt in the violence which erupted after massed ranks of fans had been drinking for hours in the southern city.

AFP journalists saw one man with a heavily bloodied face receiving treatment after apparently suffering a cardiac arrest.

Police fired volleys of teargas to disperse the brawling fans as well as local youths who became involved.

Fans were seen marauding through streets throwing chairs and taunting each other.

Six people were arrested, adding to seven arrests in the district on Friday night in similar disturbances.

Police also broke up fighting involving England fans on Thursday.

England fans said the latest clashes were caused by Russians who charged at them.

“There were about 100 Russians, they just came out of nowhere, something was thrown and that started it all off,” said one England supporter who asked not to be named.

Another fan, Danny Hart, 23, said the 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) kickoff time had fuelled the violence.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have scheduled the match at nine o’clock tonight.

“By that time everyone’s going to be completely pissed (drunk).”

The England-Russian game was one of five classified as “high-risk” for hooliganism by organisers.

Marseille residents said the violence should have been expected.

“It’s the English, what do you expect? We know what it’s going to be like when they come here,” said Laurent Ferrero, a pizzeria owner.

“In 1998 it was the same thing,” he said, recalling clashes between English and Tunisian fans in the port city during that year’s World Cup.

In Lyon, meanwhile, four French men aged between 20 and 24 were briefly detained following a drunken fight in a bar where England fans had been drinking, police said. 

Witnesses said the French men attacked the England supporters. Police did not comment. 

The violence has marred French joy at an otherwise smooth start to the giant tournament which has been overshadowed by months of industrial unrest and terror fears.

The host country was boosted by a 2-1 win against Romania in an opening match.

– ‘Massive’ union rally planned –

However months of strikes showed little sign of letting up, with Air France pilots joining rail workers, rubbish collectors and oil refinery workers in walking off the job.

The strike by a quarter of Air France’s pilots meant only 83 percent of flights operated on Saturday, the company said in a statement.

The strike would continue until Tuesday, when unions have organised nationwide rallies to protest government labour reforms.

“It is going to be massive,” predicted the head of the powerful CGT union Philippe Martinez, who is spearheading the industrial action.

With fears the strikes will disrupt football tournament, Martinez has vowed not to be “blackmailed with the Euro.”

“Having a party and continuing the social movement are not paradoxical,” he said.

Rail unions voted to continue their strike through the weekend as negotiations remain blocked. Refuse workers and incineration plants will also remain on strike until Tuesday although some street collections have resumed.

The European championship is also fraught with terror fears, coming seven months after November attacks by Islamic State jihadists and suicide bombers in Paris left 130 people dead.

While 80,000 football fans cheerfully submitted to heavy security to enter the Stade de France for the opening match, attack fears dampened enthusiasm and a massive fan zone under the Eiffel Tower in Paris was only half-full, according to police. 

Some 90,000 police and private security guards have been deployed to protect players and around two million foreign visitors expected for the matches at 10 venues around the country.

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