Violence Mars World Cup Soccer
Jun. 15, 1998
MARSEILLE, France (AP) _ Police put a lock on Marseille today, bringing in reinforcements, banning alcohol and corralling arriving English soccer fans to try thwart a flare up of the violence that seriously injured two people.
England and Tunisia, fighting their World Cup match a day early, heaved bottles, smashed windows and shouted filthy insults in clashes that started Sunday and ran through the night.
Police arrested 50 people in the melee that left 37 people injured, local officials said.
Among the seriously injured was a young English fan slashed in the throat.
Of the injured and arrested, 30 were British. Tunisians and French also were injured and arrested, authorities said.
There had been trouble as early as Saturday, but in those cases English fans clashed with police.
Marseille Police Chief Michel Sappin said police ranks were being reinforced in the city center and around the stadium. Lines of riot police ready to sweep in if needed could be seen strategically placed outside Marseille.
Authorities had already planned to deploy a total of 1,600 uniformed or plainclothes city police, 200 gendarmes and about 100 elite CRS national police for this afternoon's match.
The prefect of the Marseille region, Jean-Paul Proust, banned the sale of alcohol in the city starting at 4:30 p.m., just about the time the game will end, and ordered all bars closed by 11 p.m.
Police searched luggage of droves of English fans arriving by train and were escorting them to their hotels, police said. They were being asked to stay out of the city center.
``The fear is that the better known ringleaders are still on their way to Marseille, said FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper at a Paris press briefing. ``The fact that they are coming so late proves they are not interested in the football, only what comes after.''
Sappin, the police chief, said that scheduling the English-Tunisia match for Monday was ``an error'' because it gave hooligans a chance to drink throughout the weekend.
FIFA said the schedule was long set and would not be changed. Cooper said there was no thought to throwing the English team out of the tournament.
``The England football team are not responsible for a handful of people throwing chairs through cafe windows,'' he said. ``There's no reason to remove the team from the competition. It's not even a point of discussion.''
Cooper called those involved in the violence ``a few dozen mindless perverts.''
At Saint-Charles train station, a group of Tunisians ambushed English fans arriving on a midnight train. Heads were bloodied on both sides before police could intervene.
``It will get worse, whatever happens,'' said Gary Lazarus, a London printer here for the match. ``If England loses, people will want revenge. If Tunisia loses, they'll come after us.''
English fans spent most of Sunday drinking peacefully, if noisily, at bars on the Canebiere, a once elegant boulevard that has gone to seed. Young Tunisians from the tough northern suburbs buzzed them repeatedly on motorscooters, waving flags.
``Some silly person hit a Tunisian and started it,'' according to Jeff Cotgrave, 30, an electrical worker from Birmingham, who left the area for safety.
``I know Englishmen aren't all so good, but the Tunisians and police provoked English supporters all day,'' he said.
Few Tunisians wanted to comment. When asked how the trouble started, one brandished the heavy metal pole he was carrying.
During the eruptions Sunday and into the early hours of Monday, hundreds of police, with riot gear, tear gas and dogs, separated small groups of Britons from excited crowds of local Tunisians, who chanted and taunted.
The English fought back when they could evade police lines. At one point, a dozen of them stood behind an unfurled Union Jack, urging a bottle-throwing crowd to attack. When one young Tunisian advanced, a Briton slammed him with a chair.
Police picked off drunken English, wrestling them to the ground, handcuffing them and hauling them off to jail.
As riot troops led away a bald, burly Englishman, Tunisian kids jeered.
Three sober young Englishmen were distressed by the rioting. They had met the day before at a police station where they separately reported break-ins of their cars.
``I'm here on holiday, and all I want to do is see my team play,'' said Lazarus, one of the three. He had covered up his blue and red Coventry soccer jersey with a sweatshirt.