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Soccer Fans Riot in Moscow

Sports: One person is slain after Russian team loses to Japan in the World Cup. Police are faulted for lax security at outdoor TV viewing site.

June 10, 2002|MAURA REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Soccer fans went on a rampage in the heart of Moscow on Sunday, torching cars, breaking windows and battling police while watching Russia lose a World Cup soccer match to Japan on an outdoor TV screen just outside the Kremlin. One person was fatally stabbed and at least two dozen were injured.

The unrest was the worst in the Russian capital since an uprising in parliament in 1993.

Sunday's riot broke out during the second half of the game, when Japan scored the contest's only goal. Drunken fans took out their anger on vehicles parked near the viewing site, in Manezh Square at the northern entrance to Red Square, setting more than half a dozen ablaze, overturning others and smashing the windows of dozens more.

They also threw beer bottles at one another and through windows of Russia's lower house of parliament, across the street from Manezh Square. Then, dispersing onto radiating streets, the rioters smashed the windows of half a dozen Japanese and Chinese restaurants and attacked five Japanese citizens, injuring one.

Riot police arrived an hour and a half after the melee began, according to state television. Sixty people were reported detained. Reports of those injured ranged between 20 and 100; of the injured, 11 were reported to be police officers.

Alexei K. Volin, the government's deputy chief of staff, called the violence "an insult to the millions of people who supported the Russian team."

At least some of the rioters appeared to be skinheads. They were heard chanting, "Onward, Russia" and "Victory to skinheads"--slogans associated with Russian neo-Nazis.

Yuri Korchagin, manager of the Ginno Taki Japanese restaurant, said rioters shouted anti-Japanese slogans as they hurled bottles and metal bars through five of his eatery's six large glass windows.

Diners scurried out of the way of the flying glass, and no one was hurt.

"I do not know whether it was a setup or not, but I am afraid that the same outcome could have been possible even if the Russian team had won the game," Korchagin said. "These idiots in the mob would still have decided to 'kick some ass'even if they were happy about the victory. They are totally unpredictable."

Criticism quickly focused on the police. A state television anchor described the official presence near the outdoor TV screen as woefully inadequate, amounting to just 10 mounted police officers. But Moscow Police Chief Vladimir Pronin defended his force's performance, saying that many more fans had turned out to watch the match than the 500 expected. He said the number of viewers might have topped 8,000.

Police provided little information about the one reported death; an Associated Press photographer who saw the body described the victim as white and apparently in his 20s.

Five Japanese citizens who were in town to attend the world-famous Tchaikovsky music competition were accosted by drunken fans as they walked near the Moscow Conservatory, said Tsuyoshi Kurihara, a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy. A man in the group was struck on the head and slightly injured, but the rioters did not touch his four female companions.

"Before the game, we were concerned about the safety of Japanese citizens living in Moscow and advised all of them not to appear in the streets," Kurihara said.

The World Cup loss to Japan was a serious blow to the Russian team, whose star player has been sidelined by injuries. But the defeat did not knock Russia out of the tournament, and it is scheduled to play Belgium on Friday.

A Moscow city spokesman said plans to broadcast subsequent World Cup matches on large outdoor screens have been canceled.

Alexei V. Kuznetsov of The Times' Moscow Bureau contributed to this report.

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