Poland wants severe punishment after Warsaw Euro2012 clashes

Polish riot police arrest soccer fan during clashes before the Group A Euro 2012 soccer match between Poland and Russia in Warsaw June 12, 2012.

WARSAW - Poland's Interior Minister said on Wednesday he hoped courts would severely punish the hooligans who fought in the streets of Warsaw ahead of Tuesday's football match against Russia and rejected charges the police were too slow to act.

The violent clashes between Poles and Russians during a march by thousands of Russia supporters to the stadium was an embarrassment for the Polish organisers of Euro 2012 who had until then presided over a mostly peaceful tournament.

"When it comes to our hooligans, I hope the prosecutors and especially the courts will be strict and these people will fully feel the consequences of their antics," Interior Minister Jacek Cichocki told a news conference.

Police detained 184 people, including 156 Poles and 24 Russians, after several bloody clashes around Warsaw.

During the most violent skirmishes near the stadium after Russian fans crossed the Vistula river, riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at groups of young men who threw bottles and flares and later threw punches and kicked some of the Russian marchers, who fought back.

Cichocki said the detained Russians would face accelerated court procedure and would likely be expelled from Poland and banned from returning to Europe's border free Schengen area for five years.

Authorities had been braced for a confrontation at the Group A game between the neighbouring countries, whose relations have been poisoned by centuries of conflict and the Soviet domination of Poland for more than four decades after World War Two.

Polish officials rejected charges that at times police were too slow to react to the violence that erupted ahead of the Poland-Russia match that ended in a 1-1 draw.

Nearly 6,400 officers policed the Warsaw streets Wednesday, including 2,000 riot police, who cordoned off the marchers.

"In my opinion, the number of policemen was appropriate,"Cichocki said. "I think police performed well."

About 20,000 Russian fans had been expected in Warsaw for the match.

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