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Macron urges ‘full transparency’ over Champions League chaos

Paris (AFP) – President Emmanuel Macron urged the French government on Wednesday to investigate with “full transparency” the chaos at this weekend’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid, as the interior minister came under increasing pressure over the police’s handling.

The mayhem outside the Stade de France stadium ahead of the match, which saw thousands of Liverpool supporters with tickets struggle to enter and police respond with tear gas, raised questions over the capacity of Paris to host the Olympic Games in 2024.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has faced growing criticism and accusations of lying after he blamed the chaos on massive ticket scams.

Government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire said that the matter had been briefly discussed at Wednesday’s regular cabinet meeting chaired by Macron, who has yet to comment publicly.

“What the president wants… is that light is shone on what really happened, in full transparency, and very quickly,” she told reporters, while emphasising Darmanin had Macron’s “full confidence”.

She said Macron also expected action from the government to ensure that this “never happens again”.

“Simply put, could we have done things better, could it have been better managed? Yes,” she acknowledged. “Were there wounded, a tragedy? No. Can we improve things for future sporting events? Certainly.”

She confirmed that 2,700 supporters had been unable to watch the match due to the chaos.

“The president of the republic and all his government are sad and sorry for these people who lost out.”

– ‘He was furious’ –

Despite the public professions of support, French media reports said that Macron was privately furious with Darmanin, 39, a high-flying right-winger.

The Canard Enchaine satirical weekly said that Macron had told Darmanin that what happened was a “heavy blow for France”.

“We can say that he was furious,” BFM TV cited a source close to Macron as saying. 

“The minister of the interior was expressly asked to step up and stop insisting that we were not to blame,” the source added.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen suggested Darmanin should resign after he defended the French police and blamed ticket counterfeiting for the chaos.

“The facts are extremely serious and the lie by the minister is extremely serious,” Le Pen told France 2 television.

“In any other democracy, faced with such a fiasco, with chaos that occurred in front of 400 million people watching on television, which offered a dreadful image of France, then he should consider himself that he should resign,” she added.

The leftwing Liberation newspaper depicted Darmanin on its front page on Wednesday with his nose stretched out like Pinocchio. 

The newspaper’s editorial, headlined “Lie”, said the final “risks remaining in the annals of the republic long even after it has been forgotten by football fans.” 

– Senate hearing –

Darmanin blamed “massive, industrial-scale and organised fraud in fake tickets” for the chaos and said that 30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool fans had turned up at the stadium either “without tickets or with counterfeited tickets”.

He also claimed that as many as 70 percent of tickets were found to be fraudulent by staff at the first security checkpoints outside the Stade de France.

Sources within UEFA and the French football federation told AFP on Tuesday that only 2,800 fake tickets were detected at the entrance gates of the stadium, suggesting the problem was more about managing flows of people outside.

The scenes have caused renewed tensions between France and Britain, whose ties are already strained, and have become a domestic political headache for the government less than two weeks before parliamentary elections.

Darmanin and Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera are to appear later Wednesday before a Senate committee hearing where they will face questions about security at the game, which tarnished France’s image ahead of its hosting of the rugby World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2024.

Liverpool’s chief executive Billy Hogan said the club have received more than 5,000 complaints from supporters in 24 hours regarding the chaos.

“We’re aware there were many fans who were injured on Saturday evening and we’ve asked UEFA for their match day log, which includes any medical incidents for the night, so we can reach out to those supporters and families to help if we can,” said Hogan.

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