France beefs up Lille police as Russian and English fans converge
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Thousands of Russia and England fans arrived in Lille on Wednesday as the French government said it was flooding the city with police ahead of the teams's next Euro 2016 matches, which will be played in neighbouring cities.
France is desperate to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the England-Russia match in Marseille on Saturday, and authorities in Lille have banned the sale and public consumption of alcohol and stepped up security in the northern city.
Although the teams will not meet again in the group stage, they play their next matches in cities only a few dozen kilometres from each other. Rival supporters are sure to meet in Lille, where trains from England arrive and fan zones have set up for those without tickets.
After minor scuffles near the train station on Tuesday evening, Lille was calm at lunchtime on Wednesday ahead of Russia's afternoon match against Slovakia and the England-Wales clash in nearby Lens on Thursday.
The French government's top administrator in the region, Prefect Michel Lalande said seven people had been arrested for public disorder in an otherwise calm buildup to Russia’s game with Slovakia.
"We won the first leg, now we have to win the second,” Lalande said, adding that those arrested included Russians, Slovaks and a woman from Ukraine, and that four of them would be deported in the coming days.
The prefect said the priority was to ensure that Russian fans don't cross paths with the English.
Some 40,000 English fans are expected in Lens for Thursday's match, though many more who do not have tickets for the game had earlier been told to stay in Lille because Lens is a much smaller city.
Both Russia and England have been threatened with expulsion from the competition after hundreds of fans clashed for three days in Marseille, drawing volleys of teargas from riot police who struggled to contain the skirmishes.
Dozens of people were injured in the Marseille clashes and a 51-year-old Englishman is in a coma after he was repeatedly hit on the head with a metal bar.
"Today, the measure is very simple: flood the public space with police so that there is no room for any form of hooliganism," Sports Minister Patrick Kanner told RTL radio.
Unlike in Marseille, where fans were able to drink for hours on end, they struggled to do so in Lille and Lens due to a blanket liquor ban imposed until Friday, closing bars and cafés and stopping shops and petrol stations from selling alcohol.
Stadium security beefed up
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said he did "not have any certainty that disorder involving Russian fans will not be repeated", and blamed England fans for provoking the trouble.
Mutko called UEFA's decision to fine his side €150,000 and give it an official warning over violence inside the stadium in Marseille "excessive".
About 4,000 police officers have also been drafted in for the Russia-Slovakia match, which is the first that has not been sold out at the tournament.
"It's a party, and our job is to make a good party. But if you have violence, we are ready to fight against this violence," local police chief Olivier Dimpre told Reuters outside Lille’s Flandres train station, where about a dozen riot police vans were parked.
"The prefect has forbidden drinking alcohol in the streets, carrying alcohol, bottles and cans. Today and tomorrow, it's forbidden."
Security has also been tightened inside the stadium after Russian supporters charged their English rivals in Marseille's Stade Velodrome at the end of Saturday's 1-1 draw.
Soccer body UEFA has acknowledged that stewarding was not up to scratch and it said on Wednesday that the number of stewards in the stadium would be increased by about 10 to 20 percent.
High-risk matches have on average about 1,000 stewards. UEFA said they would be deployed differently to ensure supporters from both sides are properly segregated.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)