French police used tear gas to disperse English football fans at the European Championship on Wednesday, the fourth time England fans have been involved in violent incidents since the start of the tournament.
Despite scattered incidents, the violence in the northern city of Lille did not reach the levels of last weekend in the southern city of Marseille, where English fans were involved in three days of occasionally vicious fighting.
After a match between Russia and Slovakia ended in Lille, police chased large groups of English fans through the back streets around the city’s main railway station.
A group of several hundred English fans drinking in local bars had been getting progressively rowdier and noisier, singing songs taunting Russia, when a loud explosion was heard and some bottles were thrown.
In Lille, police pinned a man against the ground. Police then charged, spraying tear gas in front of them as they ran. Some bystanders took refuge in a nearby pharmacy. Later in the evening, police used gas again on groups of England supporters running through the city center.
Riot police in Lille encourage downing of a drink …. pic.twitter.com/FL9Z2h6d6d
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) 15 June 2016
French authorities in Lille said police made 16 arrests, including six Russians involved in violence last Saturday in Marseille.
Another five people were arrested for public drunkenness on a train from London that was stopped before it got to Lille and then allowed to continue.
The repercussions to violence in the southern city of Marseille last week involving English and Russian supporters continued on Wednesday.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador to protest the detention of Russian football fans in southern France.
The ministry said the decision by the Marseille prosecutor to hold the Russians for 48 hours pending investigation was “discriminatory.” It warned that “further fanning of anti-Russian sentiments over our team’s participation in the European Championship could significantly strain the atmosphere of Russian-French ties.”
The Russians were detained Tuesday near Nice as they were heading by bus to Lille for Wednesday’s match against Slovakia. Local authorities said police stopped the fans to see whether any hooligans were among them.
— John Leicester (@johnleicester) 15 June 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said Moscow hoped UEFA will give equal treatment to all those responsible for fan violence.
Dmitry Peskov also voiced hope Wednesday that the Euro 2016 will continue without any further “excesses.”
UEFA has threatened to expel Russia and England from the tournament if their fans are involved in any more trouble.
The French police action in Lille followed violent clashes between Russia and England fans in Marseille ahead of their European Championship opener, a 1-1 draw on Saturday night.
Russia lost to Slovakia 2-1 on Wednesday.
In Lille, Russian and Slovakian fans stayed clear of trouble as they left the Stade Pierre Mauroy and returned to the city center after their match.
Setting off a flare in the final 10 minutes of the game was the only notable example of misbehavior by Russian fans.
The incident could still be costly for the Russian federation. It had been warned that it will be kicked out of the competition if fans were to cause any more trouble after unrest at their team’s match against England last Saturday in Marseille.
The match unfurled in a peaceful atmosphere, with dozens of Russian and Slovakian fans peacefully walking the streets in the Villeneuve d’Ascq area, a 10-minute walk from the stadium.
Fans from both nations mingled just outside the stadium and were taking pictures together.
The potential for further unrest remains as large numbers of English and Welsh supporters are in Lille ahead of their teams’ match.
By early afternoon there had only been seven arrests for public disorder. Among those arrested were Russians, Slovaks and a woman from Ukraine.
More than 2,000 security forces were present in the city.
Bilyal Kotkin, a Russian fan from Moscow, said Russian hooligans “need to be isolated. We need to close the borders on them because football does not go with force and violence.”
Riot police commander Olivier Dimpre told reporters outside the Flanders station that they are looking for hooligan groups before they get into the town center, saying riot police were ready for any disorder.
“Everything that could be done has been done,” Dimpre said.
English supporters sang unsavory songs about Russia and songs about British pilots shooting down German planes in WWII. Police told fans who strayed too far from the bars with their beer to either tip it onto the street or return to the bars.