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Riots and political tension mar Euro 2012

Political tensions and uncontained fan rivalry tarnished the Euro 2012 tournament.

Croatian fans celebrate at Euro 2012. Picture: Odd Andersen/AFP
Ukraine,Euro 2012,Poland,Euro 2012 fan fights,fan violence
Sport

KIEV - Neither Poland nor Ukraine, co-hosts of the Euro 2012 football extravaganza, wanted it this way.

When the two neighbours were chosen to stage Europe's biggest football festival, Poland saw it as a chance to tug its protege closer to the European mainstream.

For Ukraine, Euro 2012 offered a chance to showcase its development as a modern democratic state, free of any Soviet hangover and ready to take its rightful place in Europe.

The "beautiful game" would be the glue to weld these ideals together.

But, one week into the tournament, these dreams are turning sour as political feuds and old rivalries threaten to take the gloss off sporting accomplishment.

In Warsaw, Polish and Russian fans fought near the stadium on Tuesday before their teams' 1-1 draw, an echo of centuries of difficult relations, including decades of Soviet domination of Poland. In the stadium, a huge flag was unfurled with the highly inflammatory slogan "This Is Russia".

In Ukraine, still smarting from accusations that racism is prevalent on its club terraces, tension has grown around the fate of its best-known dissident, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Brushing off a boycott by some Western politicians who have stayed away from Euro 2012 matches in solidarity with Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian leadership suggested she might face a new charge of involvement in a contract killing 16 years ago.

The fighting in Warsaw, in which police fired rubber bullets and tear gas and detained 184 people, was an embarrassment for Poland, which had until then presided over a mostly peaceful tournament.

President Vladimir Putin told Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk by telephone that Warsaw bore "full responsibility" for fans' safety and Russia's Foreign Ministry blamed the violence on Polish fans. Poland apologised.

GATECRASHER

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and his government had hoped sport would divert attention from the political imbroglio over Tymoshenko that has incurred Europe's displeasure.

But Tymoshenko has, in a way, gatecrashed his party, even though she is a long way from the capital Kiev and under prison guard in hospital.

Her supporters are distributing leaflets and T-shirts to football fans across the country to draw attention to her plight.

The West's view is that her trial and seven-year sentence last year - for abuse of office while prime minister - was politically motivated and smacks of "selective justice".

But, far from considering her release, Yanukovich has suggested Tymoshenko might also have been involved in the 1996 contract murder of prominent businessman and politician Yevhen Shcherban.

She herself says such an accusation is "absurd".

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