'Ultra' football fans protest over shooting

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The Independent Online

Fans of Spartak Moscow football club have blocked one of the Russian capital's main thoroughfares and chanted nationalist slogans, demanding revenge, after one of the club's fans was killed by a migrant from the country's troubled North Caucasus.

Yegor Sviridov, a 28-year-old Spartak fan believed to be part of an "ultra" group, was with his friend, 25-year-old Dmitry Filatov on Sunday night, when the pair got into a fight with a group of men.

According to police reports, he was shot four times – including once in the head – and died, while Mr Filatov is currently in hospital with stomach injuries.

Yesterday, Aslan Cherkesov, the 26-year-old accused of firing the shots, was taken into custody. He claims that he was acting in self-defence, while Mr Sviridov's friends say that they were minding their own business when Mr Cherkesov and his friends attacked them.

Around 1000 fans of the club gathered outside a local prosecutor's office late on Tuesday evening to demand a probe into the death, fearing that the accused might be able to bribe his way out of a trial.

Things started off peacefully, with fans lighting candles in remembrance, but the meeting soon got out of control. Fans climbed onto cars, lit flares and blocked traffic on Leningradsky Prospekt, one of the capital's busiest roads. They chanted the nationalist slogan "Russia for Russians" before being dispersed by riot police.

Nationalist sentiment and violence among fans will be a concern for the country, which last week won the right to host the 2018 World Cup.

In the run up to the vote, Russian officials were furious that sections of the British media wrote about racism at Russian grounds, claiming that the problem was purely imaginary.

But there is no doubt that the game in Russia is often marred by clashes between fans. Fan groups, many of whom style themselves on the notorious English "firms" of the 1970s and 1980s, have a reputation for nationalist rhetoric.

A reporter visiting a game in Saransk, one of the 2018 host cities, saw a large group of fans give Nazi salutes during the match last month. Inside the stadiums on matchdays in the top division, hundreds of riot police stand guard to prevent any trouble. But outside, things can get nasty. Last month, around 1,000 fans of Zenit St Petersburg went on the rampage after they won the Russian Premier League. The fans clashed with police and vandalised bus stops.

Last month, over 100 Spartak fans were arrested after clashing with police during a Champions League tie with Olympique Marseille. The fiercest violence usually comes between fans of the Moscow club and migrants from the North Caucasus. The rivalry on the pitch is boosted by nationalist elements within the Moscow fanbase who oppose the large-scale migration from the poverty-stricken area to Moscow.

Away trips to football clubs based in the North Caucasus often result in fights. Aiden McGeady, Spartak's Irish international midfielder who signed for the club from Celtic last year, recalled a tough trip to Anzhi Makhachkala, in the restless republic of Dagestan, where an Islamic insurgency is raging. McGeady said it was worse than anything he'd seen during the bitterly contested Old Firm derbies between Rangers and Celtic.

"There was a big riot. I don't think it was the police and the Spartak fans. I don't know what happened," he said.

"Then I saw the Anzhi fans running up to the Spartak fans, tearing out seats and throwing them. It's a different world out there."

After the game, said McGeady, the team bus was pelted with stones by home fans and the Spartak players scrambled to hide on the floor.

Tuesday's demonstration was concluded without any major violence, but police are worried about further protests planned for the weekend.

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