Banning England won't stop the trouble, say Turks

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The Independent Online

The young man was standing up through the sun-roof of the car, a hat the shape of a football wedged on his head, and he was screaming as though his lungs might explode.

The young man was standing up through the sun-roof of the car, a hat the shape of a football wedged on his head, and he was screaming as though his lungs might explode.

From all around him - from cafés, from shops, from people driving past on motorbikes - his cries were met and repeated, invariably by someone waving a red flag bearing the star and crescent of Turkey. And this was four hours before that country's football team was due to play yesterday evening.

Schaarbeek, home to much of Brussels' Turkish community, is unlike most districts of the Belgian capital. Many of the properties are scruffy rather than grand and the boulangeries are as likely to sell baklavas as baguettes. In essence, it feels more like a poor district of Istanbul, or a provincial Anatolian city such as Konya.

But in recent days, thisghetto-like district of north-eastern Brussels has become the focus of attention, not only because of its fanatical football supporters but because it is the Turks of Schaarbeek and those from the districts of St Joost and St Gilles who have become the scapegoats for a certain type of England fan.

After the violence last weekend that marred England's historic victory over Germany and left its team facing an expulsion warning from Euro 2000, there were some who tried to claim they had been provoked by Brussels' communities of North Africans and Turks.

The word from some England fans - especially on Friday night when trouble broke out around the Grand Place - was that, after the clashes between Turkish and English fans in Copenhagen and in Istanbul, where two Leeds United fans were killed, the Turks were again out for murder.

Yesterday, in the cafés on Chausse de Haecht, the main street in Schaarbeek,many people admitted there was a problem with a minority of Turks. "The hooligan problem is a small problem. It involves a minority of people," said Metin, 36, a carpenter. "It is normal that you will get people who will try to blame others. It is a pity that many of the English supporters are hooligans. Maybe they should learn that some things provoke a reaction. If you show your backside in Turkey or damage the flag it is very bad. It may be that we do some things that would be very bad in England."

Another man, Aygun Ahrar, 44, a driver, added: "There are a small number of people on both sides who want to cause trouble. There is a Turkish expression, 'The fly is little but it can cause a lot of problems'."

There are about 25,000 Turks in Brussels, considerably fewer than the city's Moroccan community, which has also been blamed by some England fans for provoking trouble over the weekend. In the 35 years since the Turks started arriving, the community has spread out across the city and leaders say there is little racial tension.

But in a thriving, cosmopolitan city such as Brussels, the Turkish community remains a poor underclass. Unemployment among this group hovers at about 35 per cent and it is only now that the third generation of immigrants are taking up university and other further education. For the parents, who once provided manual labour but have not retrained, options are limited.

"This is something I cannot understand," said Cem Argilli, 40, a community worker who spoke fluent English as well as French and Turkish. "There are young people from our community who get involved in street gangs. If they are lucky they will meet nice friends, but if not they will spend their lives on the streets. They lose their education and they get involved in trouble. But I think that many of the British hooligans have good jobs and education. I cannot understand why [they are involved]."

But the general view was that the problem of hooliganism would not be solved by banning the England team. "If you have England sent out of the tournament it will only be a victory for the hooligans," said one man.

England fans in Brussels spoke of their fears of being thrown out of the competition. Two friends just arrived off the Eurostar train took different views. "I can't see them doing that," said Mark Shore, 44, a factory worker from Canning Town, east London, who was with his daughter Emma, 17. "They haven't done anything about anyone else who has caused trouble: the Belgians, who have twice been involved in trouble or, of course, the Turks. I think it's a scare tactic."

His friend, Mick Pitfield, a supervisor in the same factory, from Stanford le Hope, Essex, took the opposite view. "I think it's likely we could be thrown out. I don't think there is anything can be done to stop the trouble, there are idiots who have just come to fight ... I would be gutted if it happened."

Paul Dallen, 25, from Ipswich, said: "Most fans, like us, are just enjoying themselves and keeping a long way away from the violence."

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