Warsaw's mayor apologized Wednesday to visitors for soccer hooligan violence that left dozens injured and caused others to feel unsafe, a day after Poland and Russia fans clashed with each other and police when their teams met in a tense European Championship game.
Warsaw’s mayor apologized Wednesday to visitors for soccer hooligan violence that left dozens injured and caused others to feel unsafe, a day after Poland and Russia fans clashed with each other and police when their teams met in a tense European Championship game.
For the most part, however, Polish officials tried to put a positive spin on Tuesday’s disturbances, saying a strong and effective police response prevented worse bloodshed. One official called it the biggest-ever police security operation in Warsaw. Riot police fired rubber bullets and used water cannon and tear gas, while officers detained 184 people – most of them Poles.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement saying police “did not allow aggression to escalate on the part of the hooligans” and caught “the most aggressive fans.” It also stressed that most Polish and Russian fans enjoyed themselves in a spirit of “festivity.”
Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz apologized to “our guests,” the thousands of visitors who traveled here for Euro 2012, calling the violence a “scandalous” disturbance of public order.
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“I apologize and I deplore the fact that hooligans have exposed our guests to a loss of a sense of security,” Gronkiewicz-Waltz told a news conference.
Authorities gave varying figures on the number of injured. Police said 19 civilians and 17 officers were injured; ambulance officials gave an overall figure of 24 earlier in the day; and Warsaw Province Governor Jacek Kozlowski said up to 140 people required some type of medical treatment, including for the effects of tear gas.
The trouble started when about 5,000 Russian marched through central Warsaw waving national flags and chanting “Russia, Russia” 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 given the historical wounds.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that, all in all, the trouble was “limited in scale” compared to what it might have been given the heated national emotions and the numbers of fans on each side. About 45,000 people watched the game at the stadium and around 75,000 others on huge TV screens in a downtown fan zone. The fights were scattered across downtown Warsaw. None were at the National Stadium or in the downtown fan zone.
The game ended in a 1-1 tie and that may have helped defuse tensions from escalating into further violence since neither side could claim victory over the other. The final score 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.
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 injured included Russians, a German, an American and a Pakistani, Kozlowski told a news conference. One Russian and seven Poles were still hospitalized early Wednesday, though none in life-threatening condition, he said.
Police detained 156 Poles, more than 20 Russians, a Hungarian, a Spaniard and an Algerian, the Interior Ministry said. One Russian was detained after 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 for five years, Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki said. He added that the detained Poles should “not sleep soundly,” because they will face trials that could lead to harsh sentences.
Cichocki said more than 6,000 police officers were deployed in Warsaw on Tuesday and another 770 were brought in at night. He said they were successful in assuring the security of regular soccer fans.
Cichocki discussed the clashes during a meeting Wednesday with Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Russian presidential council on human rights. Russian media had said a day earlier that Fedotov was going to Warsaw to deal with the aftermath of the fan violence, but Poland’s Foreign Ministry said the visit had been planned in advance.
Associated Press writer Vanessa Gera contributed to this report.