Water cannon douse Euro 2012 Poland-Russia clashes
(WARSAW) - Police used water cannon and tear gas on unruly Euro 2012 fans in Warsaw on Tuesday as Poland geared up to play old foe Russia in a must-win Euro 2012 match.
Tension ahead of the match posing the city's "greatest ever" security challenge was stoked by centuries of bad blood and suspicion between the two countries, and pockets of fans on both sides had a reputation for violence.
Police using water cannon sprayed unruly Polish fans near the stadium just hours ahead of the match, an AFP reporter saw. Tear gas was also used near the match venue encircled by a thick cordon of riot police.
AFP photographers also saw police detaining several fans in the area.
Riot police and vans created a buffer between Polish and Russian fans as they began marching to the National Stadium on Tuesday afternoon across a central Warsaw bridge chanting "Russia, Russia" and waving white, blue and red Russian flags.
Some Polish fans yelled verbal abuse at the Russian marchers, who responded by hurling back bottles, but security forces swiftly managed to keep the situation in check on what also happens to be the visitors' national day.
Earlier, Polish Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki confirmed a heavier police presence in Warsaw, having previously described the security operation as the "greatest-ever challenge for law and order forces in the capital."
"Drunk fans both in the city centre and on the outskirts of Warsaw after the game -- especially around midnight -- that's a real concern to us," added Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Tusk also hit back at claims of racism levelled at Poland, with a number of reported incidents, most notably taunts at members of the Dutch national team as they trained in Krakow.
In a separate incident, Russian fans are alleged to have taunted Ethiopian-Czech player Theodor Gebre Selassie, who is black.
"Let's be honest, racist and anti-Semitic attitudes among Polish hooligans are a fact. But I strongly protest against stigmatising Poland as a country in which this phenomenon is growing," he said.
Before the match, helicopters circled the sky above the capital, where some 6,000 police are on duty over the course of the tournament.
Poland's Euro 2012 organisers said 9,800 Russian and 29,300 Polish fans had match tickets but they expected 12,000 Russian fans in the city for match day.
Officers in central Warsaw flagged down cars looking for banned items like weapons and flares and to check passengers' identification. Fans were also stopped in the street, AFP reporters said.
But Russian fans who began pouring into the Polish capital earlier in the day had insisted the security issue was being blown out of proportion.
"We won't be provoking anything," said Svetoslaw Sorokine, 33, who travelled 48 hours by train from Yoshkar-Ola, a city 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of Moscow, for the match.
"Our supporters come in a spirit of peace to support our team, not to play politics," he added.
Fellow fan Ilya Koulikov, a Moscow native, said fears of clashes among fans were being "fuelled by the media who are stoking the fire. People have come for the football."
Polish media played up the tense history of the old foes, with the centre-left daily Gazeta Wyborcza resorting to military language.
"It won't be a simple march across Warsaw, alas, but massive air raids against the Polish net," the newspaper said. "Above all, we must survive this match."
Russia come into the game on a high after thumping the Czech Republic 4-1 in their first game, but Poland drew 1-1 with Greece, making a win a must for the Euro 2012 co-hosts if they are to go through to the last eight.
Football-mad Prime Minister Tusk joked that his "trembling heart" predicted a 4-0 victory for Poland but "reason and my football savvy tell me it's going to a very tough match."
Tusk will be hoping the scoreline is not a repeat of a friendly match between Poland and Russia fans, who a day earlier came together to lay wreaths in honour of people from both countries who were killed in World War II.
Russia won 8-7 on penalties.
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