MARSEILLE (REUTERS/AFP) - English and Russian soccer fans hurling bottles and chairs clashed with each other and with French riot police in Marseille on Saturday ahead of their teams’ opening Euro 2016 match, with one fan left critically injured.
There were also scuffles between visiting fans and locals, with some wielding cafe tables as weapons, in a third day of violence in the narrow streets leading off Marseille’s Vieux Port (Old Port).
Marseille’s emergency services said 15 people were injured during the fracas, including one middle-aged man who was knocked unconscious, and one England supporter who suffered a heart attack.
Water cannon trucks moved in and dozens of police armed with batons cordoned off streets, firing tear gas to break up the skirmishes.
“I hope they never reach the stadium,” said Sabine Bernasconi, the mayor of one of Marseille districts.
European soccer’s governing body, Uefa, condemned the violence.
“People engaging in such violent acts have no place in football,” it said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of fans descended on Marseille ahead of the evening’s match. Broken glass and debris littered some roads and alleys near the Queen Victoria pub, focal point of clashes between English, Russian and French fans on Thursday and Friday.
The clouds of tear gas produced images of unrest all to similar, though on a much smaller scale, to those in the city 18 years ago when violence flared for two days and nights around England’s World Cup game against Tunisia.
Local police chief Laurent Nunez said about 300 English fans had been involved and a similar number of Russians.
One English fan was left in a critical condition, he said, according to AFP.
A police source said the man had been beaten with an iron bar “apparently around the head” and was rushed to hospital after emergency first-aid at the scene.
AFP journalists saw the man, with a heavily bloodied face, receiving treatment after apparently suffering a cardiac arrest. At least three other people received serious injuries but their lives were not in danger, officials said.
Police made six arrests on Saturday, adding to the nine from Friday. Those charged could face trial as early as Monday.
Pictures posted online showed Russian fans proudly displaying England flags captured during violent exchanges on Friday while groups of locals also weighed in, particularly with the throwing of bottles.
The Queen Victoria and next-door Irish bar were forced to close their doors to England fans late last night, and several other bars in the port area have said they will not be showing the 9pm England versus Russia match on TV.
With up to 90,000 fans expected to fill the city, authorities were endeavouring to keep some sort of control and the atmosphere around the stadium and on the route to the fan zones was convivial.
There are designated separate routes to approach the Stade Velodrome for the match while the fan zone has been split into two sections, each holding 40,000.
Meanwhile, three England fans and a French woman were to appear in court on Saturday charged with acts of violence in Marseille, the state prosecutor’s office said.
All four were held in custody overnight after being arrested for throwing bottles and other objects at police as trouble flared on Friday.
One of the three English nationals picked up is a minor and will appear before a juvenile judge.
A Frenchman arrested for violence and theft with violence on Thursday appeared before a judge earlier on Saturday.