French city gears up for Russia v Slovakia after weekend scuffles

The northern French city of Lille was gearing up for a Euro 2016 match between Russia and Slovakia amid concerns over continued violence among fans after clashes over the weekend left 35 people injured.

Russia, whose fans fought with England supporters in the southern city of Marseille on Saturday, was handed a suspended disqualification by UEFA and warned that it would be sent home if supporters continued to take part in stadium crowd disturbances.

Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin called the Russian hooligans "highly trained" and organized, saying they posed a serious risk. Not one person of the group, estimated by Robin to be approximately 150 people, was arrested by French police.

However, 43 Russian fans were placed in detention on Tuesday, after their bus was stopped near Cannes. The bus was on its way to Lille.

Lille, where the Russia v Slovakia match was set to start Wednesday afternoon, is only some 40 kilometres away from Lens, where England is set to face off against Wales on Thursday.

It has been reasonably quiet in the buildup to Wednesday's game with one minor incident on Tuesday night between Russian fans and England and Wales fans acting in unison. England and Wales fans also sang anti Russian songs in the main square in Lille.

Several senior Russian officials have publicly supported the country's fans.

Russia's Sport Minister Vitaly Mutko said Russian fans were provoked, according to comments carried by state news agency TASS.

"There is no guarantee that the disturbances will not happen again," Mutko said.

Igor Lebedev, a member of the Russian Football Union's executive committee and a vice speaker of Russia's parliament, had blamed the inability of the French police for the violence on his Twitter page.

"I don't see anything terrible in the fans' fight. On the contrary, our guys did a good job. Keep it up!" Lebedev said.

Vladimir Markin, spokesman for Russia's federal Investigative Committee said Europeans were "surprised to see a real man as he should be" because "they are used to seeing 'men' only at gay parades."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the violence and said President Vladimir Putin did not agree with the other top-ranking officials.

The violence could jeopardize the popularity of the games among potential foreign visitors to Russia's World Cup in 2018, for which Russia is spending an estimated 10 billion euros (11 billion dollars).

Last update: Wed, 15/06/2016 - 16:39
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