Fallout of clashing hooligans

Injury toll among fighting fans at 24

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland -- Warsaw's mayor apologized Wednesday to visitors for soccer hooligan violence that left dozens injured and caused others to feel unsafe, a day after Poland and Russia fans clashed with each other and police when their teams met in a tense European Championship game.

For the most part, however, Polish officials tried to put a positive spin on Tuesday's disturbances, saying a strong and effective police response prevented worse bloodshed. One official called it the biggest-ever police security operation in Warsaw. Riot police fired rubber bullets and used water cannon and tear gas, while officers detained 184 people -- most of them Poles.

Authorities gave varying figures on the number of injured. Police said 19 civilians and 17 officers were injured; ambulance officials gave an overall figure of 24 earlier in the day; and Warsaw Province Governor Jacek Kozlowski said up to 140 people required some type of medical treatment, including for the effects of tear gas.

Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz apologized to "our guests," the thousands of visitors who traveled here for Euro 2012, calling the violence a "scandalous" disturbance of public order.

"I apologize and I deplore the fact that hooligans have exposed our guests to a loss of a sense of security," Gronkiewicz-Waltz said at a news conference.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement saying police "did not allow aggression to escalate on the part of the hooligans" and caught "the most aggressive fans." It also stressed that most Polish and Russian fans enjoyed themselves in a spirit of "festivity."

The trouble started when about 5,000 Russian marched through central Warsaw waving national flags and chanting "Russia, Russia" while making their way to National Stadium for Tuesday's game. The two countries share a difficult history, including decades of control by Moscow over Poland during the Cold War.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that, all in all, the trouble was "limited in scale" compared to what it might have been, given the heated national emotions and the numbers of fans on each side. About 45,000 people watched the game at the stadium and about 75,000 others on huge TV screens in a downtown fan zone. The fights were scattered across downtown Warsaw, not at National Stadium or in the downtown fan zone.

The game ended in a 1-1 tie -- and that may have helped defuse tensions.

Police said they would review their security procedures. The clashes were embarrassing and painful to many Poles, who resent that a small number of thugs has cast a bad light on the country. Poland has been looking to Euro 2012 to highlight how much it has modernized and developed since throwing off communism in 1989.

The injured included Russians, a German, an American and a Pakistani, Kozlowski said at a news conference. One Russian and seven Poles still were hospitalized early Wednesday, though none was in life-threatening condition, he said.

Police detained 156 Poles, more than 20 Russians, a Hungarian, a Spaniard and an Algerian, the Interior Ministry said. One Russian was detained after he threw a firecracker onto the field during the game.

The Russians will go through summary court trials aimed at expelling them from Poland and lifting their European Union visas for five years, Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki said. He added that the detained Poles should "not sleep soundly," because they will face trials that could lead to harsh sentences.

Cichocki said more than 6,000 police officers were deployed in Warsaw Tuesday and another 770 were brought in at night. He said they were successful in assuring the security of regular soccer fans.

Cichocki discussed the clashes during a meeting Wednesday with Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Russian presidential council on human rights. Russian media had said a day earlier that Fedotov was going to Warsaw to deal with the aftermath of the fan violence, but Poland's Foreign Ministry said the visit had been planned in advance.

To comment, you must be a registered user. Please Sign In or Register