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Euro 2016: At least 36 football fans arrested in Lille unrest

AFP | Football fans sit on top of road signs in central Lille on June 15, 2016, during the Euro 2016 football championship.

French riot police charged and used tear gas to disperse rowdy English soccer fans in Lille on Wednesday, though the northern city was spared feared clashes with Russian supporters.

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Thirty-six people were arrested for various offences as Russia lost to Slovakia in Lille and England prepared to play Wales in the same Euro 2016 group in nearby Lens on Thursday, police said.

A total of 323 people have been arrested since the start of the European Championship, the French interior ministry said Thursday.

"Of these arrests, 196 were taken into custody, eight convicted to jail terms and three given suspended sentences," the ministry said, without offering further details.

There had been fears of violence in the north between Russian and English fans on Wednesday after they had clashed when their teams met in the southern city of Marseille over the weekend.

However, few Russians were out on the streets of Lille after their team’s 2-1 defeat in an afternoon fixture and the main trouble that evening was caused by English fans chanting outside bars in groups of up to 200.

But after dark, as the ancient centre of Lille filled with local people streaming home from a screening of the French team’s victory over Albania, confrontations between small groups of supporters prompted riot forces to intervene, chasing fans along streets, using pepper spray, dog handlers and acoustic grenades.

A game of cat-and-mouse, as England supporters moved on to gather elsewhere and sing defiantly at police, eventually broke up in the small hours as fans drifted off in anticipation of the game against Wales in Lens at 3pm (1pm GMT) on Thursday.

Violence in the Mediterranean port of Marseille before and after England’s 1-1 draw with Russia, including a charge in the stadium by Russian fans after the final whistle, has seen the hosts of the 2018 World Cup warned by organisers UEFA that the country’s team will be disqualified if there is a repeat of such disorder.

On Wednesday Russia summoned France's ambassador to protest the arrest of Russian football fans following Saturday's game.

During the game against Slovakia, a flare went off in the stands among Russian supporters after Russia scored late on to give the team’s fans hope of salvaging a draw. But UEFA officials indicated that the incident would not trigger disqualification.

UEFA also warned England that a repetition of fans’ violent behaviour could see the team expelled. There was no immediate reaction from UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, to the events in Lille, where police said they had “saturated” the city with nearly 4,000 officers and limited alcohol sales.

England fans complained that the police had been heavy handed. “Shame", some shouted at the heavily armoured forces.

However, the authorities had clearly decided to hold back from making mass arrests among noisy and disruptive groups.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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