Polish authorities rule hooligans must uncover faces

Friday’s riots in Poland, which marred the country’s Independence Day celebrations, have been a major test for the country’s security forces ahead of Euro 2012 next summer.

Polish police say the majority of the 210 people arrested during marches that turned violent were football hooligans. Although almost half of those detained were foreigners, including 92 Germans, a Spaniard, a Hungarian and a Dane, local football fans are far from being warm and fuzzy.

On Friday, on the 93rd anniversary of Polish independence from the Russian Empire, they showed themselves to be a force to be reckoned with after instigating what was without doubt the worst street violence seen in Poland in years. 40 police officers were injured and 14 police cars destroyed when youths attacked with bottles, cobblestones and other objects.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk held a special meeting with key security officials, including the interior and justice ministers, to consult on the issue.

The country has a far bigger problem with football hooligans than neighboring Ukraine, and the success of Euro 2012 particularly – though not exclusively – depends on how the country’s police tackle the problem.

While security at stadiums is not in doubt, the major problem is how to avoid violence on the streets. As part of the campaign, Polish officials have recently pledged to prepare up to 2,000 berths in prisons for the most aggressive hooligans.

As for street tactics, on Friday well-trained police used tear gas and water cannon on rival groups of demonstrators. But perhaps the most significant move towards restoring order is a ban on hiding faces behind masks and scarves in public places. The initiative is being widely discussed within Polish society, and seems to have found more supporters than opponents.

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