Mayhem in central London as English fans launch charge at 300 Scottish supporters

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The Independent Online
VIOLENCE BETWEEN rival England and Scotland supporters in central London ahead of last night's Euro 2000 qualifier raised questions for England's 2006 world cup bid organisers, after riot police were required to separate fighting fans.

Police responded quickly last night to attempts by some 50 English fans to charge around 300 Scotland supporters in Trafalgar Square, where the Scottish fans had spent most of yesterday celebrating. Policeformed a line between thefactions, driving the English fans back down the Strand.

The fighting will alarm critics of England's ability to host a violence- free world cup, but the Metropolitan Police managed to prevent the conflict spreading to the hundreds of other fans and drinkers milling around the area. Outside Wembley itself there were no reports of any clashes and some 1,000 officers had been deployed to ensure there was no trouble.

Earlier Trafalgar Square had been the focus for hundreds of Scotland fans who arrived in London on overnight sleepers, one containing the Scottish First Minister, Donald Dewar, who arrived in the capital for the match. The build-up began around 11am and by early afternoon Trafalgar Square was a sea of blue and white as up to 1,000 Scotland fans filled the tiered base of Nelson's Column and the surrounding square.

St Andrew flags were draped from every other shoulder as the boisterous supporters sang and chanted at the passing traffic. "Wembley, Wembley, we are the famous Tartan Army and we're off to Wembley," was the most popular chorus.

But it was punctuated with cries of "stand up if you hate England". Groups of England fans, chanting "no surrender to the IRA", were being moved on by police anxious to avoid the scenes of violence that have marred previous Scottish games against the Auld Enemy.

The skirmishes follow on from the battles in the centre of Glasgow before, during and after last Saturday's first-leg match, when England won 2-0. Nearly 140 football fans appeared in court in Glasgow on Monday charged with offences that included breach of the peace and carrying offensive weapons.

t Irish football fans were unable to watch the second leg of their qualifier against Turkey last night despite a personal intervention by Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, who attempted persuade Turkish broadcasters to reduce their Irpounds 2.3m (pounds 1.9m) fee.