Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More than 700 Polish hooligans arrested before cup match

Police arrested 741 football hooligans in Warsaw before a Polish cup match, a spokeswoman told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Wednesday.

The hooligans were arrested Tuesday evening in the largest police action against rioting football fans in years, she said.

The youths, some of them minors, threw stones and firecrackers at security forces who were escorting them to a Legia vs. Polonia cup match.

Violence erupted after some 1,000 hooligans met outside a hotel in the capitol and headed towards the stadium, the Rzeczpospolita reported. Fans from each team had been escorted, separately, to the stadium by police. One group later split up as police tried to contain them.

Security forces managed to rein in some 400 hooligans on a grass lawn near the Old Town before they were attacked.

One police car was destroyed in the rioting and three hooligans were injured. The hooligans, some with masked faces, also damaged two private vehicles after jumping on top of them, reported the Polish Press Agency. They were fans of Legia and a 'couple other teams.'

The cup match between the two Polish Premier League teams - both from Warsaw - ended in a draw. There were no incidents during the match.

The rioters face custodial sentences of one to 10 years.

Vice-premier Grzegorz Schetyna said some of the hooligans will be charged, and promised a tougher,'no tolerance' policy against violence in football.

'If there's disapproval of hooliganism and anonymity, we'll effectively throw out these people from the stadiums,' Schetyna said. 'They must be cut off from football and sport.'

Schetyna said new stadium regulations could take effect from 2009, and will include tougher punishments for hooligans.

'We won't lack determination to make Polish stadiums safe,' he said.

'It's important to us that a ban from the stadium will become a European ban. That those who got (a ban) won't have entry to Euro 2012 matches and to every European Championship or World Championship.'

Polish authorities had previously pledged to crack down on hooliganism, but the issue has recently become sensitive as Poland prepares to co-host the Euro 2012 football championship.

The arrest on Tuesday sparked debate on how to best deal with the hooliganism that's plagued the nation's stadiums for years.

In June, Prime Minister Donald Tusk had said it's 'better not to' organize the Euro in Poland if hooligans continue to rule the stadiums.

Tusk said those who come to games armed with weapons are potential murderers and should be treated as such by police. The biggest problem in the nation's stadiums, he said, is the tolerance football fans show towards hooligans.