French police use tear gas on rioting English soccer fans; one man critically hurt

Brits, Russians scuffle, throw chairs, brawl in the streets of Marseille ahead of Euro 2016 match

French police officers charge soccer supporters during clashes in downtown Marseille, France, Saturday, June 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
French police officers charge soccer supporters during clashes in downtown Marseille, France, Saturday, June 11, 2016 (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

MARSEILLE, France — England fans rioted Saturday at the Old Port in Marseille and police used tear gas for a third straight day in an attempt to disperse rowdy crowds only hours before England was to play Russia at the European Championship.

After the gas drifted away, some bare-chested fans held up England flags and shouted at police. Russian fans were also involved in the fighting.

TV footage showed scenes of violence, including fans throwing chairs yanked from restaurant terraces and scuffling on a staircase, where one man was seen kicking another one down the stairs.

One England supporter, said to be in his 50s, was reported to be fighting for his life after being kicked in the head.

Across town at the Stade Velodrome, the situation remained calm amid heavy security. Lines of police were drawn up outside, sirens blared and a mobile water cannon was parked outside.

Crowds were gathering ahead of the game, but there was no disorder.

The clashes have revived bitter memories of days of bloody fighting in the Mediterranean port city between England hooligans, Tunisia fans and locals of North African origin during the World Cup in 1998. Then, hundreds of England fans were involved in violent beach-front clashes with locals in Marseille over two days around England’s match against Tunisia, prompting a headline in a local paper: “Go home hooligans!”

The violence marred earlier peaceful scenes at the port on Saturday morning, when fans mingled with tourists as relaxed police looked on. It also came despite UEFA repeating its appeal to fans to behave, saying it was “confident that the safety of travelling fans will be ensured by the local authorities which are responsible for order in the city.”

Local authorities laid out separate routes to enter the stadium for England and Russia fans in an attempt to keep the groups apart before the 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) kickoff of the Group B match. Several hours before the match, small groups of fans were gathering peacefully outside the stadium.

England coach Roy Hodgson had also urged fans to “avoid any troubles lurking around the corner.”

Jean Patrick Berbera rushed early Saturday to install extra security shutters to his store in the Old Port area.

“The police did their jobs, but, well, it sort of kicked off a civil war at the port last night,” Berbera said.

Gary Toal, an England fan from the northern city of Newcastle, said the violence in Marseille was overshadowing Euro 2016, which opened Friday with host France’s 2-1 victory over Romania in Saint-Denis.

“It’s not everybody but there are a lot of people involved,” Toal said. “It is a bit of a mob mentality and it’s not nice to see so we are trying to keep away from all that and enjoy the football.”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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