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Russian far-right agitator among twenty fans expelled from Euro 2016

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MARSEILLES: A Russian far-right agitator was among 20 fans to be thrown out of France on Thursday as the city of Lens went into lockdown ahead of England’s next Euro 2016 match.

Amid diplomatic tensions over the case, Alexander Shprygin, who heads Russia’s football supporters’ association, is among fans who will be expelled following violence at the England-Russia match in Marseille.

“He is among the group,” an investigation source told AFP.

The Russian supporters’ association said the supporters would be thrown out of France within five days.

“French authorities say they have taken this decision for security reasons because they consider that the supporters waiting to be expelled are a potential threat,” the association said in a statement.

Prosecutors said three Russian supporters will also be tried in Marseille, the first from their country to face justice for their role in the trouble on Saturday.

French police swooped on a group of 43 Russian fans including Shprygin in southern France on Tuesday and carried out identity checks as part of the investigation into the clashes.

The arrest of the Russians turned into a diplomatic incident on Wednesday when Moscow summoned France’s ambassador in protest.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the arrests as “absolutely unacceptable”. French authorities said the other 20 supporters in the group would be freed.

Alert in Lens

Thousands of riot police were on high alert in Lens, the industrial northern city where up to 50,000 supporters gathered as England face British rivals Wales at 1300 GMT.

Security forces watched English fans closely after 36 people were arrested Wednesday in nearby Lille where riot police carrying shields fired teargas in a standoff with rival fans.

The atmosphere in Lens was good-natured before kickoff, but schools in the city were closed because of fan trouble fears.

Kevin English, a 53-year-old plumber, was drinking beer and still nursing a bruised and cut eye after a fight with Russian fans in Marseille.

“I was by myself having a drink in the Old Port when a group of Russians came out of nowhere and attacked me. They stamped on me. I have bruises all over my body,” he told AFP.

But he said he would not look for confrontation with Russians. “It’s been and gone. I wouldn’t go looking for revenge,” he said.

On Wednesday, brawling erupted when tens of thousands of fans from the Russia-Slovakia match in Lille joined English and Welsh supporters gathering in the city. Riot police staged several tear gas assaults and baton charges.

There are 20 British police ‘spotters’ mingling with the crowds. The Germany-Poland game in Paris on Thursday night is also considered a hooligan risk.

Russia has been formally warned by UEFA that they could be thrown out of the competition if their fans cause any more trouble in stadiums. England have also been warned about their fans’ conduct.

The three Russians being tried in Marseille will face the same violence charges as 10 British, French and Austrian nationals sentenced to prison terms of up to a year on Monday, prosecutor Brice Robin said. One Frenchman will also face trial.

The Russians will also face charges over a new offence of “knowingly participating in a group” planning “deliberate violence”, the prosecutor said. That offence carries a one-year prison sentence and a fine of 15,000 euros ($16,900).

Meanwhile, the presence of Shprygin among the 20 expelled fans raises fresh questions about Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup.

Shprygin, an aide to nationalist Russian lawmaker Igor Lebedev, was once pictured performing a Nazi salute and has served a jail sentence for extremist links.

He told Russian media last year that he wanted to see “Slavic faces” in the Russian squad. His boss Lebedev meanwhile praised the Russian fans for the violence in Marseille and told them to “carry on lads”.

French police have made 323 arrests since the start of the violence-marred championship, the interior ministry said on Thursday,

Security forces fear the tournament could be a terrorist target, worries reinforced after the murder of two police officers near Paris this week by a Frenchman with links to the Islamic State jihadist group.

On the field things are going smoothly for the host nation after Les Bleus beat Albania 2-0 on Wednesday with two late goals to become the first nation to qualify for the next round.

 

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