France Vows to Stomp Out Soccer Violence

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

By JEROME PUGMIRE, Associated Press Writer


PARIS — Racism and violence have clouded Paris' premier soccer team for 20 years, but France's leaders are determined to stomp it out after a shooting death outraged the nation and exposed the long-ignored problem.

A black police officer protecting a Jewish fan shot a young man to death and wounded another last Thursday while under attack from supporters hurling racist and anti-Semitic epithets. The incident near the stadium followed a match between Paris Saint-Germain and Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Tackling Paris Saint-Germain's violent history is taking on national importance as France heads into pivotal presidential elections next year and grapples with how to integrate its minorities whose sense of disenfranchisement was highlighted by nationwide riots last year.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, a presidential hopeful, wants PSG's hooligans banned from matches and champions anti-terrorism legislation to boost video surveillance. His Socialist rival in the race, Segolene Royal, proposes shutting down stands such as the Kop of Boulogne, where PSG's far-right fan base congregates.

Ahead of PSG's match Sunday with Toulouse, police shut down the Kop of Boulogne, one of the sections at the 43,000-seat Parc des Princes.

French soccer draws heavily on talent from former African colonies, making it both a showcase of mixed races and a target for racists.

PSG officials have long insisted racists are a minority and that their powers to stop them are limited _ even with 102 cameras inside the stadium.

"You can't ask PSG to arrest and judge people. Things don't work that way in France," the club's director of communications, Jean-Philippe d'Halliville, said in an interview with The Associated Press in April.

Prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin, who is investigating Thursday's incident, says the clubs can and will be held responsible for such violence.

French hooliganism began at Parc des Princes in 1984 when English and French fans clashed on the terraces during an international match, leaving dozens injured. That made French thugs firmly part of the hooligan movement that was dominating British headlines.

In 1991, Arab fans were attacked by marauding Boulogne hooligans. Earlier this month, a man of Senegalese origin was attacked by six Boulogne thugs after a match at Le Mans.

During one match last season, a fan yelled at former PSG midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo, who is of Indian origin, "Go sell peanuts in the metro." It was among the least offensive shouts in a tirade of vulgar epithets and monkey chants.

Senegalese-born Patrick Vieira, a midfielder for the French national team, said last year he'd "have to think twice before setting foot (at Parc des Princes) again."

Police said the two men who were shot were members of a group known as the Boulogne Boys, some of whom have links to the tight-knit core of violent fans who gather in the Kop de Boulogne.

The Boulogne Boys have been quick to distance themselves from allegations that the group has a far-right leaning.

"The (Boulogne) Boys have never been political, and never will be," the group said in a statement Friday. "The media have once again stigmatized our association."

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