Poland convicts 23 for soccer hooligan violence
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Nearly two dozen hooligans have been convicted in fast-track trials for their role in violent clashes when Poland and Russia faced off in an emotionally charged European Championship match earlier this week, court officials said Thursday.
The trials in connection with Tuesday's disturbances are meant to show that Poland is serious about its policy of zero tolerance for violence as it co-hosts Euro 2012 with Ukraine.
Fast-track trials are not unique to Poland. They have become common practices at other major tournaments like the World Cup. In preparation for Euro 2012, Poland changed parts of its criminal code to make the quick trials possible.
Seven Poles were convicted Wednesday and sixteen others Thursday, Warsaw district court officials said. The 23 were found guilty of assaulting police officers and "taking part in illegal gatherings." Street gatherings are considered illegal when participants join them with an obvious intent to be violent and when they seek no official permission.
Sentences range from three to 12 months in prison, but many of them are suspended sentences or subject to appeal. Three men were given prison terms of two, three and five months, according to Wojciech Malek, spokesman for a Warsaw district court.
One man was fined 3,000 zlotys ($870) for assaulting a policeman, Warsaw district court official Marcin Lochowski said.
Sports Minister Joanna Mucha said the punishments should be harsher, but that the government had no influence over the justice system.
Courts plan further fast-track trials for dozens more in the coming days. Police detained 184 people for taking part in the clashes. Some broke out before the match when thousands of Russian soccer fans marched to the National Stadium waving Russian flags and chanting "Russia, Russia." The mass expression of Russian patriotism in Warsaw's capital was provocative to some Poles, who still deeply resent Moscow's imposition of communism here during the Cold War.
Many Poles felt authorities shouldn't have allowed the Russians to march as a group in Warsaw given the historical wounds, and some of the fighting was sparked by Polish hooligans who attacked Russians.
Separately, a group of young Poles also attacked police during the match with bottles and stones, prompting officers to respond with rubber bullets and tear gas. Three dozen people were injured in the violence — 19 civilians and 17 police officers.
Police detained 156 Poles, 25 Russians, a Spaniard, a Hungarian and an Algerian for the fighting around the game between Poland and Russia, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
On Wednesday, Poland's interior minister said the Russians would face trials aimed at expelling them from the country and lifting their European Union visas for five years.
There was no violence at the stadium or in the downtown fan zone.
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Wednesday evening and expressed his view "that bad stadium emotions should not influence the good relations between the two countries and their citizens," Tusk's website said in a statement.
It added that the two leaders agreed that hooligans should be prosecuted irrespective of their nationality.