England fans battle riot squad

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The Independent Online
THE CENTRE of Marseilles erupted in violence last night as hundreds of England supporters were involved in a series of running battles with French police.

In by far the worst violence yet of France 98, riot police fired scores of tear-gas grenades as fans hurled bottles, glasses, chairs and metal railings. As the night wore on, fans broke a number of cafe windows, smashed up cars and overturned at least one vehicle.

An estimated 50 supporters were arrested, and scores of people were injured. One of the more seriously hurt was an English fan who had his throat slashed. He was last night undergoing emergency surgery and was said to be in a serious condition.

What had begun as a day of good atmosphere between rival English and Tunisian fans descended into chaos.

The violence, which began around 4.30pm local time, will do little to help England's chances of hosting the World Cup in 2006. There was, however, no suggestion that today's game would be jeopardised.

What triggered the violence, centred on the city's Old Port area, is not clear. Witnesses said trouble started after hundreds of Tunisians marched down the street towards an area where crowds of English fans were drinking. At this point a bottle was thrown. Who threw it depended on who you asked. But it was widely agreed that that bottle led to scores of others - spurring riot police and dog- handlers to move in and break up the supporters. Observers said England fans damaged a Tunisian flag, later setting fire to it - something which triggered further violence.

Officials said only five English supporters had been arrested - those that were being picked out by specialist English police spotters, who were at the scene with their French counterparts. Intelligence sources said the English supporters involved in the skirmishes were not what they would classify as hard-core hooligans.

Jean Francois Falcou, head of security at the Stade Velodrome, the venue for today's match, admitted it would be impossible to match the names of those people entering the stadium with those printed on their tickets.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, has been kept up to date with developments and has asked for a full report to be made available to him this morning. Tony Blair is also due to make a statement.

Cup fever turns sour, page 2

World Cup reports,

pages 28-32

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