Riot police prepared for another Eurotunnel invasion

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The Independent Online

Riot police were guarding the entrance to the Channel Tunnel to prevent a repeat of the Christmas Day invasion by hundreds of asylum seekers.

French police arrested 130 refugees after they broke down a fence, stormed past Eurotunnel guards and invaded the tunnel. A further 400 people, mostly Afghans and Kurds, from the Red Cross Sangatte holding camp near Calais were beaten back with tear gas when they attempted another mass invasion a few hours later.

A Eurotunnel spokesman said French riot police would work alongside 100 of their own guards to avoid a repeat of the Christmas breach of security. "People were taken by surprise on Christmas Day. Measures have now been put in place to ensure that a similar situation does not occur," the spokesman said.

He said trains would be running through the tunnel, making it even less likely that refugees will attempt to cross into Britain. Eurostar services did not operate over Christmas.

Following the earlier incident, French authorities jailed four men for four months for initiating the invasion by breaking down security barriers.

The Sangatte camp, originally opened to house 600 people, now hold double that figure.

In a separate development, thousands of Eurostar passengers planning a new year break in Paris or Brussels were warned yesterday that they face disruption to services because of two 24-hour strikes.

Members of Aslef, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, are due to walk out over pay on Friday and Sunday. Up to 25,000 passengers were expected to use the service on each day.

A Eurostar spokesman said the strike was only likely to cause "limited disruption" and most services, including those to Disneyland Paris and the ski train to Bourg St Maurice, should run normally. He said victims of any cancellations would be accommodated on the next available service.

The strike is the first of five planned by the union in January after Eurostar rejected a request for a pay increase.

"Our advice to everyone is to turn up at their normal check-in time.

"It may be that your service is running on time, it may be that it is cancelled and you have to wait a little while for the next one," said the spokesman.

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