Poland braces for more soccer hooligan violence

Poland is braced for more soccer hooligan violence this weekend

between Polish and Russian fans at the European Championship, with

the justice minister warning that there’s no shortage of

”cretins” willing to do battle on both sides.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned that police were prepared to

respond harshly to any violence.

”I hope we will not have to use force, but we will use it

ruthlessly if necessary,” Tusk said in an interview Friday on

Radio Zet.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin warned him that some

Russians could try to get revenge for attacks against them Tuesday

and that Russian authorities were also doing what they could do to

control their hooligans.

The Russia soccer federation has appealed to its fans to show

restraint and follow the UEFA rules of conduct.

The concerns center around a Russia-Greece match in Warsaw on

Saturday night, when more than 20,000 Russians are expected to be

in Warsaw. The fears are that some of them could end up in street

brawls with Poles.

Polish and Russian fans clashed Tuesday on the streets of Warsaw

when their countries played. The game, one burdened by a difficult

history between the two nations, ended in a 1-1 draw. In at least

one case Polish hooligans attacked Russians, who fought back. The

men kicked and beat each other and flares went off in their

midst.

The fighting came as thousands of Russians marched to the

stadium in a group, waving flags and nationalist symbols – viewed

as a provocation by some Poles. One scuffle near the stadium was

apparently started by Russians.

One of the worst cases of violence involved police firing rubber

bullets and tear gas at young Polish men who attacked them with

stones and bottles.

More than 200 people have since been arrested, Warsaw police

spokesman Maciej Karczynski said Friday. Police had initially

arrested 184 people, most of them Poles, but have caught more after

studying security camera footage.

In other misbehavior, Russian fans attacked stadium stewards at

their team’s first Euro 2012 match, on June 8 in Wroclaw. That

prompted UEFA to fine the Russian soccer federation (euro) 120,000

($150,000).

More than 20,000 Russians have tickets for Saturday’s final

group game with Greece in Warsaw, officials said. Another 3,000

Russians are expected to watch the game in public spaces, but no

march is planned this time.

”We are aware that there is no shortage of cretins and there

may be cases of behavior of a provocative character on the Polish

side, as well as on the Russian (side),” Justice Minister Jaroslaw

Gowin told reporters Friday.

Courts have also convicted some of those arrested Tuesday in

fast-track trials, though some ended up with only suspended

sentences. Gowin was critical of the suspended sentences, saying he

fears such leniency will only encourage further violence. Foreign

Minister Radek Sikorski appealed Friday to the courts and

prosecutors to deal decisively with ”hooligan banditry.”

Two Russians were among those found guilty of hooligan violence

and they were immediately expelled from Poland, and will be banned

from the European Union for five years, according to Ivetta Bialy,

spokeswoman for Mazowieckie, the province where Warsaw is

based.

Associated Press writer Monika Scislowska contributed to this

report.