New fan clashes feared at Euro 2016 in France


Lille (France) (AFP) – French authorities were on high alert for fresh violence Wednesday when Russian and English supporters come up against each other again ahead of high-risk Euro 2016 games.

Some 65,000 English, Welsh and Russian supporters are expected to flood into the northern city of Lille and neighbouring Lens, creating a security headache.

Europe’s four-yearly football extravaganza has been marred by the scenes of Russian and English supporters fighting pitched battles in Marseille on Saturday, leaving more than 30 people injured. 

Russian fans then charged into a section occupied by England supporters at the Russia-England game at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.

UEFA told Russia on Tuesday it will be kicked out of the tournament if its fans cause more stadium trouble.

Europe’s governing body found Russia responsible for the stadium disorder and ordered the “suspended disqualification” of the team. It also fined the Russian Football Union 150,000 euros ($170,000).

But the tournament schedule has put Russia in Lille to play Slovakia on Wednesday with England to face Wales just 35 kilometres (22 miles) away in Lens on Thursday.

French authorities expect between 40,000 and 50,000 England and Wales fans and 15,000 Russians to travel to the cities.

The tension was evident in Lille on Tuesday as rival groups gathered in bars, with a handful of Russian fans briefly throwing chairs and bottles at England fans who were chanting taunts.

One Russian supporter told AFP: “If the English are brave enough to come, we’ll crush them. We hate the English.”

But another Russian fan, Stanislav, said: “We are here for the game, not for the conflict.”

– Alcohol restrictions –

Bars in Lille city centre shut at midnight on Tuesday and on the night of the game and the city will be “flooded with police” to prevent rival supporters from clashing, top local official Michel Lalande said.

French authorities rounded up a group of more than 40 Russian supporters in a hotel near Marseille on Tuesday.

Alexander Shprygin, a Russian far-right figure who is head of a Russian football supporters’ group, said he was part of the group.

Marseille prosecutors believe they have enough proof to charge some of them over the worst violence at an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup.

“We have sufficiently accurate information that at least some of them took part in the unacceptable violence,” top local official Adolphe Colrat said.

UEFA’s disciplinary commission warned Russia that it had to bring its fans under control or face expulsion from the championship.

“This disqualification is suspended until the end of the tournament,” UEFA said.

“Such suspension will be lifted if incidents of a similar nature (crowd disturbances) happen inside the stadium at any of the remaining matches of the Russian team during the tournament,” it added.

Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said Moscow accepted the ruling. 

“We will comply with UEFA’s decision. What other position can there be?” he said, but later described the decision as “excessive”.

– ‘No angels’ –

Russian striker Artem Dzyuba said he was frustrated at the portrayal of England supporters as “like angels”.

French prosecutors have said 150 Russian supporters who were “extremely well-prepared” and “extremely violent” evaded arrest in Marseille.

But six England fans have been sentenced to prison terms in France for their roles in the violence.

UEFA has also warned England it could be disqualified if there is more trouble, but only Russia was charged over the conduct of its fans.

English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn urged supporters “to act in a positive and respectful way”.

That followed a video plea from England captain Wayne Rooney and coach Roy Hodgson for fans to avoid putting their country’s participation in jeopardy.

British authorities have also sent extra police to France.

The huge security operation around the tournament is aimed to neutralise the threat of jihadist attacks just seven months after 130 people were killed in Paris.

The murder Monday of two police officials near Paris by a known radical claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group has raised tensions.

In a Facebook video filmed shortly before he was shot dead by police, attacker Larossi Abballa, 25, called for Euro 2016 to be “turned into a graveyard”. The video has since been deleted.

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