Sat, May 17, 2008 - Page 18 News List

UEFA CUP: Police charge 11 Rangers fans after violence erupts

AFP , LONDON

Eleven Rangers fans were charged by British police on Thursday after violence erupted following the UEFA Cup final, drawing condemnation from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The clashes on Wednesday in Manchester, England, as Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg beat Rangers 2-0 at Eastlands, shocked authorities who have looked to stamp out soccer violence.

Brown branded those involved in the clashes a “disgrace” and said their behavior even threatened to wreck an English bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

Greater Manchester Police said 11 fans of the Scottish team had been charged — eight with public order offenses, one with assault, one with being drunk in a sports ground and one with throwing a missile.

Between 100,000 and 150,000 Rangers fans descended on Manchester for the showpiece European match, but the carnival atmosphere turned sour.

Violence flared before kick-off after a giant television screen broke down in the city center, where thousands were partying.

Fifteen police officers were injured, as well as a police dog, and 42 arrests were made as hundreds of riot police and supporters fought running battles.

Police said that those who were not charged were either bailed, cautioned or released without charge.

A Russian fan was stabbed outside the stadium, but his injuries were not life-threatening.

“I condemn absolutely the violence that was caused by a small minority,” Brown told his monthly press conference.

“It was a disgrace to see people misbehaving,” he said, adding that the police and the authorities had good reason to be “very angry.”

“I want to do everything to avoid us being put in a position where we might be at risk of an application, for example, for the 2018 World Cup not being acceptable because of this,” he said. “We will be looking at this as a matter of urgency.”

Around 11,000 fans were bussed to an alternative giant screen. Police said that while the majority had behaved impeccably, a small number of supporters pelted the broken screen with beer bottles and vented their fury at the police.

Security camera footage showed officers coming under a hail of missiles, including cans and bottles, while one policeman was set upon by a 20-strong gang kicking and stamping.

Assistant Chief Constable Justine Curran, the match commander, said the response of her officers was “appropriate.”

“It was challenging and we were stretched. Our officers did come under a degree of violent attacks,” she said. “I saw officers chased down a street by a baying mob of around 200 people. We had to do something.”

Manchester Council leader Richard Leese said the party had been wrecked.

“Do you really think we were going to stop 100,000 plus Glaswegians wanting to have a drink? It was not possible,” he said. “Trying to enforce that would have created a public order problem.”

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond called for a wide-ranging inquiry, denouncing the behavior of “a small minority of fans” as “completely unacceptable.”

In what could come as a relief to Brown, UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, praised the Manchester authorities for their handling of both the match and the violence.

“I can’t believe that any other city would have done anything better,” UEFA communications director William Gaillard said.

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