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Three-stage plan to combat violence at Euro 2004
(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2004-05-23 14:22

Portuguese police will implement a three-tier plan to combat violence at Euro 2004, focusing on "flashpoint" towns where large numbers of fans will gather rather than the stadiums themselves.

With less than a month to go before the start of the tournament on June 12, Portuguese authorities are preparing for the biggest security operation since the country hosted the Expo and Ibero-American summit in 1998.

Around 20,000 officers will be involved in the event, with access to water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.

AWACS surveillance planes will monitor the skies, border controls will be re-introduced for visitors and courts will sit in the evenings and at weekends to speed up the processing of any trouble-makers.

But for all the hardware and extra security measures, police chiefs insist the focus will be on dissuasion rather than confrontation, with riot police and dogs used only as a last resort.

"We're prepared for three levels of intervention," said lieutenant-colonel Carlos Branco, head of the security operation on the Algarve, in an interview in Faro.

'British bobby'

"Firstly, the police will be visible on the streets, with officers close to the people and ready to help. That's the idea of the British Bobby.

"Then, we have small groups of active intervention officers, to act immediately on any problems.

"Finally, on permanent alert we have forces that are more prepared for intervention in situations of public order."

Branco said police had studied tactics used during the last European championship, co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands.

At Euro 2000, English fans caused mayhem in Brussels and Charleroi, while problems in the Netherlands were only minor.

"The key is to intervene quickly," Branco said. "We'll adopt the Dutch model because the Belgian approach failed."

A rigid security system will be in place at the stadiums for matches but police believe any serious trouble will occur in historic centres of towns and cities.

Many of the 50,000 England fans expected at the tournament will stay in the resort towns of the Algarve, along with supporters from rival countries.

Albufeira, with its knot of English pubs with giant television screens showing games and its late-opening bars and clubs, is a particular worry.

"We're going to have English, Dutch and Germans on the Algarve and it's likely that there will be problems," Branco said. "It's natural. There'll be a lot of beer, a lot of wine and a party atmosphere.

"Albufeira is the critical spot. It's got a big population in a small area, people from various countries, a large English colony, some Germans and a lot of nightlife."

English experience

Portuguese police have had several workshops with their English counterparts, who have had far more experience of dealing with hooliganism.

Portugal had a spate of football-related violence in the early 1990s but problems are now rare. The last serious trouble came in 1997, when police fired rubber bullets at Manchester United fans at a Champions League game with Porto.

In 1993, riot police fought for hours with fans of second division football club Trofense, using rubber bullets and tear gas after being stoned by supporters.

One of the last big public-order disturbances came in 1989, when police were sent in to break up a demonstration of their fellow officers, marching for the right to form a union.

At least 500 uniformed officers were involved in running battles with riot police, who unleashed dogs on them, beat them with batons and sprayed them with water cannon in an infamous day in Portugal.

Water cannon may well be used again at Euro 2004, but only as a last resort, according to the head of security for the tournament, General Leonel Carvalho.

"If needed, security forces will use water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to re-establish public order," said Carvalho.

"If problems become more acute, special forces will be able to use dogs and horses."

Police officers will carry guns, as per normal practice in Portugal, but Carvalho said they would not be used in any outbreaks of hooliganism.

"We will never use real guns," he said. "We're not talking about cases of terrorism or criminals where the other side are armed as well."

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