Soccer hooligan injury toll in Poland rises to 24

June 13, 2012 - 7:49 AM
Soccer Euro 2012 Fans

Police arrest a Polish fan during clashes between young Poles and the police during the Euro 2012 soccer championship group a match between Poland and Russia in downtown Warsaw, Poland , Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The injury toll from clashes involving soccer hooligans before and after Poland played Russia in a tense European Championship game increased to at least 24 while 184 people were detained.

But Polish officials were putting a positive spin on the situation Wednesday, saying they intervened decisively when trouble arose and that the big police presence prevented worse trouble.

The trouble started when about 5,000 Russian marched through central Warsaw waving flags while making their way to the National Stadium for Tuesday's game. It was seen as provocative to many Poles. The two countries share a difficult history, including decades of control by Moscow over Poland during the Cold War. Many Poles felt authorities shouldn't have allowed the Russians to march as a group in Warsaw.

Police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse fights between fans of the rival teams and to repel attacks by Polish fans against officers. The fights were scattered across downtown Warsaw. None was at the National Stadium or in the downtown fan zone, where about 75,000 watched the match on giant TV screens.

"We did not allow aggression to escalate on the part of the hooligans," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. "Police specializing in prevention and crime took part in the action, catching the most aggressive fans."

Still, police said they would review their security procedures. The clashes were embarrassing and painful to many Poles, who resent that a small number of thugs cast a bad light on the country. Poland has been looking to Euro 2012 to highlight how much it has modernized and developed since throwing off communism in 1989.

"I would say that it shouldn't have happened, it should have been prevented and I would say that it shouldn't happen in the future because it is very bad for the image of Poland," 31-year-old Warsaw resident Kamila Szczepanska said. "People hear that and they think 'OK, this is what is happening here normally and this is our attitude towards Russians' — it's not. It is not representative at all."

The match finished in a 1-1 tie, which may have helped defuse more tensions and further violence since neither side could claim victory. The result also prompted comments of relief from Poland supporters and newspaper headlines Wednesday that stressed Poland still has a chance to advance to the quarterfinals if it defeats the Czech Republic on Saturday.

The injured included 14 Russians, a German, an American and a Pakistani, Warsaw ambulance service spokeswoman Edyta Galazkowska said. The nationality of the seven others was being established. None was in life-threatening condition, she said. About 50 people were taken to hospitals, eight of whom were still there Wednesday morning, according to the Warsaw province office.

Police detained 156 Poles, more than 20 Russians, a Hungarian, a Spaniard and an Algerian, the Interior Ministry said. One Russian was detained on suspicion he threw a firecracker onto the field during the game.

The Russians will go through summary court trials aimed at expelling them from Poland and lifting their European Union visas, Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki said, and the detained Poles should "not sleep soundly" because they will face court trial and harsh punishment as well.

Cichocki said about 5,600 police officers were deployed in Warsaw on Tuesday and said they were successful in assuring the security of regular football fans.