Boisterous fun or potential riot - England fans gassed anyway

Thu Jun 16, 2016 2:09pm EDT
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By Mitch Phillips

MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - Images of Robocop-style riot police amid clouds of tear gas to a backdrop of sirens and defiant chanting suggested Lille was in meltdown on Wednesday, yet some of those involved have suggested it was more of a cross-cultural misunderstanding.

After three days of disorder in Marseille, when there were pockets of real violence involving England fans, much of it where they were the victims of Russian assaults, authorities were on high alert when both sets of supporters headed north for their next matches.

Throughout the day and night many fans were detained, though few arrested, and 16 people were hospitalized but there were almost no clashes between fans.

Instead there was a stand-off that developed into something of a rolling cat-and-mouse chase between police and singing, drinking England fans.

The approach of the French police was to keep a watch and when any of the fans seemed to be challenging their authority by heading in a direction they were not welcome, they were moved along with occasional use of tear gas.

To many around the world, tear gas and water canon, which were also used to disperse fans in Marseille, give an impression of massive civil unrest. There are no water canon in use in the mainland of the United Kingdom for example.

For the French CRS riot police, however, tear gas is used before, and often instead of, any actual contact.

This approach is usually described by the coughing, debilitated victims as "heavy handed" in that it targets innocent bystanders but it is undoubtedly effective in dispersing crowds.   Continued...

England fans run through tear gas in Lille.      REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay