Police patrol ports to tackle football thugs

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The Independent Online

Police will patrol all major British sea and airports from tomorrow in an attempt to prevent football hooligans travelling to Euro 2004.

Police will patrol all major British sea and airports from tomorrow in an attempt to prevent football hooligans travelling to Euro 2004.

In the most extensive operation of its kind to date, officers from 22 forces experienced in dealing with soccer violence will be drafted into Heathrow, Gatwick, Dover and other ports and airports. They will also be able to apply to magistrates under special emergency powers to ban anyone from leaving the country who, they believe, will cause trouble at the European football championships in Portugal, which begin on Saturday.

The latest figures from the Home Office show the total number of banning orders issued by police stood at 2,259 as of last Friday. Should any troublemakers get through, the Portuguese police will be ready with water cannons and 15,000 cans of pepper spray.

"We are prepared for anything. There'll be some violence but we're ready for it," said General Leonel Carvalho, veteran of Portugal's African wars, who heads the Euro 2004 security effort. "Never in Portugal have we put so much into training and instruction."

They have also roused from retirement a posse of frontier guards to check passports and search cars. The Schengen accords, which allow free travel between EU countries, are suspended for the duration.

Terrorism has also emerged as a major concern, alongside hooliganism, after the 11 March bombings in Madrid that killed 192.

"We immediately upgraded security," said the Interior Minister, Antonio Figueredo Lopes, who admitted he was now "prepared for the worst".

No terror cells have been detected in Portugal, but police fear Islamic terrorists operating from Spain.

Navy warships will patrol the coast, while Nato surveillance planes and F/A-18 fighters seal off airspace over stadiums during matches.

But the police strategy is to take a softly-softly approach, says Gary Fisher, football attaché to the British embassy in Lisbon.

"Police don't want to take special measures for British fans.," he said. "They've been to games in the UK and concluded that the right approach is low-profile. They don't fear England fans and want to treat them as tourists. And they have two million a year of those."

The eight cities hosting matches have 24-hour courts to handle fast-track deportation orders.

Portugal has never been the focus of so much global attention. The expected nine billion viewers for the 30 matches exceed the number of people on the planet.

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