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A French police chief has admitted security “broke down” during a football match at Stade de France on Saturday, the main venue for the forthcoming Euro 2016, raising concerns about France’s ability to protect fans during the month-long tournament.
Despite reinforcements, police and security staff were overwhelmed by rowdy hooligans before and during Saturday’s Coupe de France final between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Olympique de Marseille. It was an embarrassing acknowledgement for organisers who billed the match as a security “dress rehearsal” only three weeks ahead of the continental football cup.
“We have to admit that when the [security] system is under pressure, and that was certainly the case on Saturday evening, it broke down in a certain amount of places,” Philippe Galli, a police chief who oversees the Saint-Denis region where the Stade de France is located, told Europe 1 radio.
Galli said that security personnel were unable to handle Saturday’s “exceptionally” large crowd, especially at the exit of the RER B rail line, with many fans eluding security pat-downs and some illicit objects – including flares – sent over a two-metre high wall erected around the stadium.
Stade de France, located just north of Paris, will host the Euro 2016’s opening match between France and Romania on June 10, as well as the final on July 10.
The giant venue was one of the targets of the deadly November 13 terrorist attacks. Two of the assailants attempted to enter the stadium during the friendly match between France and Germany. Turned away by security agents at different entrances, the pair triggered their explosives belts in the stadium’s perimeter, killing one bystander and injuring several others.
Seats torched, flares thrown
There were no reports of injuries outside Stade de France on Saturday, but chaotic and dangerous scenes were caught on camera.
Before kickoff, hooligans threw flares on a busy motorway that runs next to the stadium, while others shook a metal fence until it gave way. There were also reports of scuffles between PSG and Marseille fans, who view each other as chief rivals in the French Ligue 1 championship.
With PSG claiming a 4-2 victory on the final whistle, Marseille fans lit at least two flares in the stands. A few seats were torched, with security personnel appearing unable to put out the fires, or simply deciding to let them expire on their own.
Le Parisien daily reported that 30 people were arrested during Saturday’s match, which was attended by around 78,000 fans. A full 1,000 security agents and 550 police were brought in to provide security, according to Le Parisien.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve promised that security “failures” at the Parisian stadium would be addressed before the tournament starts, after he called an emergency meeting on Monday morning.
He said “the movement of spectators” would be improved and searches would be increased after police were overwhelmed by a surging crowd.
Earlier, centrist MP Jean-Christophe Lagarde, who represents the Saint-Denis area, said security at Stade de France had to be “totally rethought” in order to avoid a “catastrophe” during the Euro 2016.
Although he is a leading voice among France’s political opposition, Lagarde pointed an accusatory finger at the regional football authority UEFA.
“UEFA’s demands are creating disorder and the risk of a stampede, of a catastrophe. They have created bottlenecks,” he told French media on Monday. More specifically, he blasted requirements to filter all stadium-goers through just four entrances, instead of the 13 entrances that were used before the November terrorist attacks.
“The security measures requested by EUFA do not appear to be appropriate at all, they may be increasing danger instead of reducing it,” Lagarde added.
Police chief Galli said he was addressing the way fans were filtered into the stadium, as well as systematic and consistent pat-downs. He said better co-ordination between the French police, EUFA and stadium staff would lead to a successful opening match on June 10.