Violence in Paris as police clash with football fans

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FRENCH RIOT police last night fired tear gas at up to 100 football supporters involved in street disturbances in central Paris which marred the opening parade of the World Cup.

Initial reports said the trouble started between north African supporters and local French fans in one of the numerous bars lining Paris's most famous avenue; a large number of bottles and other missiles were later thrown. A number of people were injured and the Champs Elysees was scattered with broken glass.

Scottish fans in the city for today's opening match with the holders Brazil stressed they had not been involved in either the cause of the disturbance or the later violence, although some reports said that at least one incident involved Argentinian fans throwing missiles at the Scots.

Although onlookers said the French authorities had moved in very quickly to quell the disturbance, underlining their commitment to try to ensure hooliganism does not disrupt this World Cup, the incident will raise fears for the rest of the tournament.

The parade had been the climax of a good-natured day with thousands of members of the Tartan Army thronging the Parisian streets, swopping shirts and drinking with their Brazilian rivals. If they were feeling ripped off or impoverished by the non-arrival of hugely expensive tickets, the Scots were not showing it.

At the climax, central Paris was a carnival of bizarre and colourful events, some of which were even officially planned. Four separate parades were led by 60ft-high giants, to symbolise the four footballing continents, and converged on the Place de la Concorde. If well-intentioned, perhaps these Teletubby look-alikes were carrying a message rather too high-brow for most of those watching. Romeo, for instance, representing Europe, "lives as an art, a show, a never-ending celebration. He is a product of a culture that, since antiquity, has been wavering between mannerism and wealth..." and so on.

Back home, Scotland is expected to completely close down by 4.30 this afternoon as the national team faces their most important and illustrious game in their history, which will be watched by an estimated 500 million people. By the time of the final, on 12 June, a staggering 4 billion will be tuned in - that's three-quarters of the world's population, and the biggest audience ever.

From Bogota to Bologna, via Bedford and Bridlington, celebrations and commiserations will be shouted, sworn and drunk over the next month in every language under the sun by folk in shirts of every hue. More than ever before we will become part of a global village, glued to the communal tube for every twist and turn of drama.

A move by Les Folies Bergeres, the Paris cabaret famous for its dancing girls, may possibly provide them with a chance to re-coup losses, in Full Monty style. The club is putting on a show of male strippers in order to cater for "football widows" during the competition.

In Britain as a whole, a survey has found that almost one in three men will be taking time off work to watch the tournament at home. Monday afternoon, when England meet Tunisia in their opening game with a 1.30 kick-off, is expected to witness a mass exodus from factories and offices. Some firms are bowing to the inevitable, with Cadbury's in Birmingham piping live radio commentary to its 4,000 staff to try and keep as many as possible at their work.

British brewers are rubbing their hands in anticipation of the alcoholic floodgates opening. Pubs everywhere have finished bolting in the big screens and ordering extra barrels for the cellar, and it will be there that the relatively new national pastime of pub football will reach its zenith.

Bookies are also looking forward to a lot of action. More than pounds 150m will be bet on the competition, making it the biggest betting event in bookmaking history.

For those who can't even bear to tear themselves away from the TV for a walk down to the local, Asda alone has already spent pounds 300,000 on extra cans of beer and lager. Meanwhile, Customs officers have reported a boom in cross-Channel traffic for bootleggers, importing a cheaper if illicit alternative.

Even at home, however, you are not safe if you live in the London borough of Brent. The council has hatched a dastardly scheme to try and recoup some of its missing millions of council tax arrears.

It has sent out thousands of final demands and summonses, with the threat that if people don't pay then the bailiffs will be sent round - to take the television.