Guns found on eve of Euro 96

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This afternoon in north-west London, audiences will see a "Merrie England" carnival, featuring 320 dancers, the unveiling of a 35ft high trophy, a display from the Red Devils parachute regiment and the release of 40,000 balloons into the sky. Oh, and possibly a little football.

Euro 96 finally kicks off today, the biggest sporting event held in England since the 1966 World Cup. Yesterday, as part of one of the biggest anti- hooligan operations ever undertaken in this country, West Midlands police seized a cache of firearms and hundreds of CS gas canisters.

Four men were charged with possession and conspiracy to supply the 500 canisters, which are prohibited weapons. The canisters have a 9ft range and are believed to fetch pounds 15 each on the black market.

A loaded Browning .765 semi-automatic pistol was recovered with six rounds of live ammunition from one of the men and a .22 air rifle with a sniper long-range attachment was later found at a local address.

Police have been working on the intelligence operation for a month in the run-up to the championships. Assistant Chief Constable Tim Brain said yesterday: "The message is quite clear that anyone thinking of coming to the West Midlands to cause trouble during the championships had better think again. As far as we are concerned, Euro 96 will still be a festival of football and a great statement for this country."

In an unconnected incident, more than 200 tickets for today's opening match between England and Switzerland have disappeared.

The Metropolitan Police's Euro 96 intelligence team says a batch of 210 tickets were lost or stolen in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham on 31 May.

A spokeswoman said all the ticket numbers have since been cancelled and anyone attempting to get into Wembley with one will be turned away.

Euro 96 is the third largest sports event in the world, after the Olympics and World Cup. A total of 1.4 million fans are expected to watch the 31 matches played over 23 days, while the resulting 250,000 overseas visitors will ensure the British economy benefits to the tune of approximately pounds 125 million.

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