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New attacks show racist violence simmering unchecked by fans of Paris' storied soccer club

New attacks show racist violence simmering unchecked by fans of Paris' storied soccer club

Dressed in designer labels and raising the occasional Nazi salute, the drunken mob marched through Paris' Left Bank en route to a match featuring the city's premier soccer club, Paris-Saint Germain.
"PSG, hoo-li-gan!" reverberated their chilling cry. Singling out a lone Arab man, they kicked and pummeled him as he struggled against the rain of hate. Passengers finally freed him _ while riot police nearby looked on.
Weeks earlier at the same spot, a similar mob doused a group of black train passengers with beer and shouted monkey chants at a black woman carrying her small child until she fled frantically up an escalator.
The Associated Press was a rare witness to these recent incidents showing that PSG, police and the French government have failed to root out racist violence that has plagued the club for years.
Both times _ before the League Cup final between PSG and Lens March 29 and before the French Cup final against Lyon on May 24 _ the incidents occurred not at a stadium but in the Saint-Michel train station, a bustling transport hub right in the middle of Paris' famed Latin Quarter.
Both times, there were no preventative measures put in place against drunken hate mobs intent on violence, no police escort and no police intervention.
Racism has also dogged France's national team, which plays Romania in the opening Group C match Monday in the European Championship. France captain Patrick Vieira, who is black, once said he'd "think twice before setting foot" again at PSG's Parc des Princes stadium after fans howled monkey chants. Former PSG and France midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo was racially insulted when playing for the club in 2005-2006.
The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, known by its French acronym LICRA, asked for governmental action after the March 29 train incident.
On that day, about a dozen black passengers had to flee up an escalator as PSG thugs coming down the other way doused them with beer, hurled bottles, and several thugs started to give chase.
"One color, white power!" shouted some of the all-white fan mob, thumping the roof of the train in a deafening noise of hate.
When the doors opened at the Chatelet Station on the Right Bank, monkey chants and insults were aimed at black passengers on the platform.
No police were nearby, and there was little that witnesses, standing on moving escalators, could do to intervene.
The violence resurfaced before the May 24 final. PSG hooligans looking for non-white targets assaulted an Arab man as he waited for his train to depart.
They punched and kicked the man, who tried to fight back, until passengers eventually managed to force the train door shut. The man struggled to get back on his feet, holding the back of his head and appearing in great pain.
Standing close by were a group of CRS riot police, who did not intervene.
Two days later, LICRA asked authorities to "identify as soon as possible the troublemakers from the Parisian club."
Two people suspected of involvement in the attacks were detained last week after a witness belatedly came forward, but were later let go, a spokeswoman for Paris police headquarters said. Surveillance video did not provide sufficient proof of their participation, said the spokeswoman, who was not authorized to be named.
The Paris police spokeswoman would not comment on why riot police did not respond to the May 24 incident, or on the limited preventative measures for PSG games. The French Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to an e-mailed message seeking comment.
Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie recently vowed to tackle the "the violence that has become a plague in sports in recent years."
The government did take action against PSG fans after the March 29 League Cup final _ but over an insulting banner unfurled during the match, not over racist incidents.
The banner called people from the rival team's city, Lens in northern France, "unemployed, inbred pedophiles." The PSG fan group believed behind it was the Boulogne Boys, which has a history of violence and some links to PSG's far-right element.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was at the Stade de France for the match, and security officials removed the banner within minutes.
Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie responded by disbanding the Boulogne Boys _ the first time the government did this to a supporters group. And PSG was banned from defending its League Cup title next season.
LICRA suggested the crackdown was carried out purely because the banner was witnessed by the nation's leader and was on national television. The government was "somewhat obliged to react," said spokeswoman Fanny Lucien said.
Disbanding the Boulogne Boys hasn't made the violence go away _ instead, it has pushed extremist fans underground and made it harder for police to track them because they are no longer part of an affiliated fan club.
"Extremist groups have the total freedom to transform Saint-Michel (train station) into a lawless place where insecurity and terror reign for several hours," LICRA said.
On May 24, tourists gathered in Latin Quarter cafes surrounding Saint-Michel gaped at a phenomenon unmentioned in guidebooks to the French capital.
"This is Paris!" one group of PSG hooligans chanted by the picturesque Saint-Michel fountain while making Nazi salutes.
Through their fashion, these thugs are evoking an image of their British hooligan idols. But while Britain has sought to crack down on its soccer hooligans, PSG's are still relatively untamed. Some PSG fans aren't just waging a territorial fight but also a racist political campaign.
"Bleu, Blanc, Rouge, La France aux Francais!" (Blue, White, Red, France for the French!), some of the thugs sang as they boarded the train before the March 29 match, using the colors of the French flag to display their nationalism.
The club repeatedly has referred to its thugs as a minority, but hooliganism has existed for more than 20 years both inside the Parc des Princes _ centered around the Kop of Boulogne section behind one of the goals, where the fans are almost exclusively white _ and outside.
The persistent lack of action by club management has led many to believe club officials are intimidated by the violent hooligan fringe.
Jean-Pierre Larrue, a former police commissioner, was in charge of security at PSG in 2003-2004 _ but was ousted after fans complained to club directors about his hardline approach.
In an interview with daily Le Parisien in April, Larrue said that police intelligence officers regularly went drinking with some of Boulogne's most hardcore thugs. This complicity was denied by UNSA, the police's biggest union.
Meanwhile, tensions between PSG thugs and police linger.
In November 2006, Julien Quemener, a member of the Boulogne Boys, was shot and killed by off-duty police officer Antoine Granomort after a UEFA Cup match against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Granomort, who is black, was protecting a Jewish fan under attack from supporters shouting racist and anti-Semitic epithets. Granomort claims he acted in self-defense, but the death still grates with PSG's hardcore element.
With PSG qualified for next season's UEFA Cup, fresh challenges await the police.
Between Quemener's shooting and the two cup finals, PSG's hooligans had largely gone underground, regaling in a new phenomenon sweeping French soccer, called simply "the fight."
Thugs clash in fields, parking lots or other locations, with equal numbers and set rules.
Incidents from Nice to Paris have been reported _ also involving fans from several other clubs _ but police and clubs can do little about them since they occur miles away from stadiums.


Updated : 2021-08-04 09:13 GMT+08:00