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French Ambassador Summoned Over ‘Unfriendly Actions’ Toward Suspected Russian Hooligans

The Kremlin says France's detention of a busload of suspected hooligans is discriminatory.

TOPSHOT - A man throws a chair as a small group of Russian men provoke a group of England supporters in the centre of Lille, on June 14, 2016, three days after Russia and England football fans clashed in the southern French city of Marseille during the Russia vs England, group B, Euro 2016 match.  / AFP / LEON NEAL        (Photo credit should read )
TOPSHOT - A man throws a chair as a small group of Russian men provoke a group of England supporters in the centre of Lille, on June 14, 2016, three days after Russia and England football fans clashed in the southern French city of Marseille during the Russia vs England, group B, Euro 2016 match. / AFP / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read )

After 150 “extremely violent” Russian hooligans stalked the streets of Marseilles looking for British fans this past Saturday, bloodying them with truncheons and sometimes knives, French authorities had a straightforward response: They stopped a busload of the suspected hooligans on Tuesday, detaining all 43 people on board, as they left Marseilles for Russia’s next match in Lille.

Now, the Russian Foreign Ministry is responding in an equally blunt way: On Wednesday, it summoned the French ambassador to Moscow over what Russia is calling an unjust and discriminatory detention.

“The prosecutor in Marseilles decided to detain the whole bus without actually trying to determine who exactly he was going after,” a press officer for the Russian embassy in Washington told Foreign Policy.

“Russia was also very disappointed with the fact that French authorities didn’t notify our consulate about the detention, so those are unfriendly actions. We believe that this matter should be resolved in a civilized way without building up a further anti-Russian atmosphere,” he added.

In comments to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the behavior of “some of our citizens” at Euro 2016, but called the detention of Russian fans “absolutely unacceptable.”

The potential for further violence is high in the city of Lille, where tens of thousands of British and Russian fans have converged for separate matches. Russia lost its match against Slovakia there on Wednesday and England will play Wales in the nearby town of Lens Thursday.

On Tuesday, Russian and British fans skirmished at a bar and a train station in Lille.

“Out of nowhere several Russian fans approached the England fans and there was some gesturing” and then some chair throwing, said a reporter for British broadcasting network Sky News.

Moments later, “Two Russian fans were surrounded by French riot police and were soon handcuffed and driven away,” he said. Hours after that incident, Russian hooligans again brawled with British fans near Lille’s central train station, apparently provoked by their chants of “we hate Russia.”

France has dispatched to the city an additional 4,000 police officers in an effort to clamp down on such incidents, which French prosecutors have blamed mostly on Russian hooliganism.

On Tuesday, the Euro 2016 governing body UEFA threatened to throw Russia out of the tournament if its fans stir up more ruckus inside stadiums. During a match against England in Marseilles on Saturday, Russian fans were found guilty of creating crowd disturbances, illegally lighting fireworks, and uttering racial slurs. As punishment, the governing body slapped Russia’s official soccer union with a $170,000 fine.

Photo credit: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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