Blair Expresses ‘deep regret’ over Euro 2000 Hooligans
Prime Minister Tony Blair promised Monday to review the measures the government could take to prevent a repeat of the Euro 2000 football violence, but said the "vast majority" of those English fans so far arrested were not known to police records.
Blair, speaking in Portugal hours before Home Secretary Jack Straw was due to make a statement to the House of Commons on the issue, said, "I deeply regret the behavior of a small group of people who aren't football fans at all, they are hooligans."
Police in Charleroi, Belgium, arrested 450 fans before and after England's 1-0 group win over Germany. Those arrested came from both countries but much of the violence that ensued appeared to be caused by England supporters.
Now UEFA, European football's governing body, has threatened to expel England from the tournament if its followers create more trouble.
Blair, who is attending a European Union summit, told Sky News: "We have to look and see what we can do for the future but it's important to emphasize that the vast majority of these people weren't on any intelligence records at all."
Blair went on: "But you have got to understand people's anger at what is a series of appalling acts of vandalism for which there's no excuse.
Blair is expected to meet his Belgian counterpart Guy Berhofstadt at the European summit later Monday to express his regret over the fans' behavior.
He said: "I will certainly deeply regret what's happened, but now I have got to make sure we do everything possible for future matches."
Blair told BBC Radio 4's Today program, "I think everybody in England feels deeply ashamed at the way these hooligans have behaved.
"They bring a disgrace to our country. They are not representative of the English or the British people. We are a decent people. We are a tolerant people.
"And these people who engage in these appalling acts of hooliganism and violence - they have no place in our national way of life at all.
"They disgrace our national way of life."
Meanwhile Straw said the government had done everything in its power to contain football hooliganism, and urged fans still in Belgium to end their violent spree so as not to jeopardize England's participation in the tournament.
"You will bear a very heavy responsibility in the end for the consequences of your mindless actions and the most patriotic thing you can do is to stay away," Straw said in a radio interview.
"The ultimate responsibility is with the hooligans -- there is not a magic wand available for the Home Secretary or anyone else for dealing with hooligans.
Straw has been blamed for not removing the passports of the thugs running amok in Belgium, but he noted on Monday that many of the scores of fans deported from Belgium had no known record of violence and therefore could not have been banned in the first place.
The FA is set to discuss the threat to throw England out of Euro 2000 with UEFA later on Monday.
FA executive director David Davies said he was optimistic that England would not be removed from the competition because of fan violence. "There is a procedure concerning exclusion of a country from a major tournament. We are confident it will not happen."
But some argue that the overt threat will give England's opponents a second way of ousting the national side from the tournament -- by provoking its fans on the streets – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)