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English Soccer Fans, Police Clash

June 15, 1998

MARSEILLE, France (AP) _ English World Cup fans trashed cars, smashed windows, fought with local youths and clashed with riot police in violence that spilled into a third day Monday.

More than 100 English fans were arrested in running street battles through the Old Port. One English fan was hospitalized in serious condition after an attacker slashed an artery in his neck.

While most streets were calm by midnight, a crowd of pro-Tunisian fans threw stones at British fans arriving at on a train at Saint Charles station. Heads were bloodied on both sides before police could intervene.

``It will get worse, whatever happens,″ said Gary Lazarus, a London printer who came for a tranquil soccer match. ``If England loses people will want revenge. If Tunisia loses, they’ll come after us.″

At least two-dozen English fans suffered minor injuries and one police officer was injured in the knee.

Police with helmets and shields charged back with tear gas to disperse the chanting mobs that showered them with bottles and beer cans. It was the wild scene of hooliganism the French hoped to prevent during the five-week World Cup that only began last Wednesday.

Pro-Tunisian fans _ mostly Marseille area youths from working-class North African immigrant families _ attacked small groups of English fans or smashed shop windows.

About a hundred other singing and chanting Englishmen, many drunk and shirtless, stood outside an Irish pub along one side of the Old Port, littered with an overturned car, broken glass and scattered cafe chairs.

Authorities canceled a free evening concert in the Old Port, and restaurants closed early.

In London, British Sports Minister Tony Banks called the troublemakers ``drunken, brain-dead louts.″ Home Secretary Jack Straw said French police had full support of the British government.

Some British fans said they were embarrassed by the violence their government has long sought to combat.

``People who do that aren’t the real fans,″ said Michael Barrett. ``Wherever they go, there are problems. ... It’s too bad for the image we give of England.″

Rubbing his eyes from tear gas, George Fenwick insisted he wasn’t violent. ``But since the afternoon, the Tunisians were provoking us, insulting us and making obscene gestures. Some young English fell into the trap and couldn’t control themselves.″

French television also showed English fans burning a Tunisian flag, angering mostly French-born Tunisians from the Marseille area.

``One of them threatened us with a knife,″ said Majhid Bouzbhi. ``I’m worried about tomorrow’s match.″

English fans pelted police overnight after a motorist who tried to force through a crowd struck and slightly injured one of the fans.

Of four English fans arrested in that clash, a 20-year-old Liverpool railroad employee remained in custody to face charges in court Monday for allegedly attacking police.

On Sunday, dozens of officers patrolled the port and down the Canebiere, the city’s main avenue, where sun-drenched cafes brimmed with flag-waving English fans who chanted, drank and talked to the locals throughout the day. Beaches were filled with tourists, locals and topless sunbathers.

Ten thousand English fans were expected at Monday’s match, but about 2,000 others were expected in town to look for tickets on the black market, where prices were reportedly running as high as $330.

Authorities planned to deploy almost 2,000 officers, including about 100 elite CRS national police. Since the beginning of the World Cup last Wednesday, submachine gun-toting troops on anti-terrorist duty have also patrolled public areas.

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