Polish police on high alert for hooligan violence

June 16, 2012 - 1:30 PM
Soccer Euro 2012 Czech Republic Poland

A Polish fan cheers before the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group A match between Czech Republic and Poland in Wroclaw, Poland, Saturday, June 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Dozens of Polish police wearing full riot gear kept a close watch on Russian soccer fans heading to their country's European Championship game against Greece on Saturday.

Around 20,000 Russians were expected to attend the match in Warsaw, and authorities have been worried about the potential for more trouble after disturbances between Polish and Russian hooligans on Tuesday led to a few dozen injuries and more than 200 arrests.

As Saturday's game approached, thousands of Russians poured across a bridge to the National Stadium. There were no immediate reports of violence, and the atmosphere appeared to be calm and good-natured. Noisy groups of fans, some wrapped in Russian flags, chanted "We have come to win" and "Russia can only win." One Russian had a photo taken with a riot officer and shook his hand.

Russian fans also waved to Polish supporters going in the opposite direction to a fan zone in downtown Warsaw, in contrast to tensions and scattered outbreaks of violence Tuesday. Earlier Saturday, reports from border crossings said fewer Russian fans were coming than expected and that the mood was friendly.

Tuesday's fighting came as thousands of Russians marched over the bridge to the stadium for the highly charged Poland-Russia game that later ended in a 1-1 tie. It came on the Russia Day holiday and the Russians marched in a group, waving flags and nationalist symbols. 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.

One of the worst cases of violence involved police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at young Polish men who attacked them with stones and bottles. Another scuffle near the stadium was apparently started by Russians.