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French towns bracing for more Euro drama

Soccer

Bars in Saint-Etienne battened down the hatches overnight as thousands of England soccer fans prepared to descend on the French town, bringing fears of the violence that marred the start of the Euro 2016 tournament.

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Local authorities have reduced opening hours, banned glasses and takeaway alcohol sales and ordered footpath seating to shut down so street furniture won’t fly in brawls like the clashes that erupted between rival groups of fans and the police at England’s opening game in Marseille on June 11.

In Saint-Etienne’s main square, bar staff packed up chairs and secured tables to conform to the new rules before fans arrived in force for the Group B game against Slovakia to be played early tomorrow, Australian time.

But many local business owners said they had been counting on the revenue the influx of visitors would generate and had hired extra staff and invested in their premises especially for the tournament.

The Chez Colette bar was shuttered on Sunday afternoon and owner Jerome Sauvignet said he could not open it as it was full of tables and chairs which were meant to be set out in the square.

“It was very important for us, we all took on extra staff, we all invested in it, we bought umbrellas, we bought new fittings for the awning and then today we see that we’re losing money,” Sauvignet said.

“Just because it happened once in Marseille doesn’t mean it’s going to happen here. We have the police, we have everyone else, I don’t see why they’d do it here,” he added.

Local prefect Evence Richard, who set out the new rules, said he had consulted local business owners. But he acknowledged that some were unhappy about the lost revenue.

“They saw it as a big party where they could do a lot of business and earn some money,” he said. “On the other hand they know that if there’s a problem, if the police get involved, that will turn off customers. And if things get broken they’re the ones who’ll foot the bill.”

He said they also had information that some England and Slovak fans might use the match to settle old scores.

He said some 100-150 extra police were to be deployed in addition to the 1,100 already slated to cover the Euro matches.

At the time Slovakia plays England in Saint-Etienne at 1900 GMT, Russia will confront Wales in Toulouse.

Local authorities there said security had also been beefed up with Welsh and Russian security officers added to the 600 extra police officers sent on site.

Bars surrounding the stadium were also ordered to close from Sunday as 20,000 fans are expected to turn up.

Meanwhile, Switzerland followed France through to the last 16 of Euro 2016 by holding the host nation to a 0-0 draw in their final Group A match this morning after the unlucky French hit the woodwork three times.

France had the best chances in a lively first half but the intensity then dropped, with both sides looking happy with a result that means Les Bleus win the group with seven points from three games ahead of the Swiss in second two points back.

Paul Pogba, criticised for his first two outings, stepped up a gear and hit the bar twice before the break. France struck the woodwork again 15 minutes from time with a spectacular volley by substitute Dimitri Payet after some fine build-up play.

Switzerland, who have never beaten France at the finals of a major tournament, looked far more competitive than when they were when thrashed 5-2 by the same opponents in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

-Reuters

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