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Hooligan battle suspects charged in Poland

Twenty-three people have been charged in Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland with involvement in organised fights between football hooligans, police said on Thursday

AFP, Thursday 31 May 2012
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The individuals are alleged to have been involved in so-called "ustawki" -- pre-arranged brawls -- between fans of third division Resovia Rzeszow and fifth-tier neighbours Wisloka Debica, said Pawel Miedlar, police spokesman for southeast Poland.

Arranged violence between rival teams' fans are notorious for having claimed several lives in Poland over recent years.

The suspects, who could face three years in prison if found guilty, are suspected of having taken part in a pitched battle near Debica in November 2009.

They have meanwhile been banned from attending football matches, must check in regularly with the police and must not leave the country.

A video of preparations for the fight and the battle itself fell into police hands and officers began working to identify the participants.

Miedlar told Polish news agency PAP that the level of violence, including blows to the head, showed that those involved had given no thought to the consequences.

"They see this as some kind of sporting rivalry but there is no common ground with the spirit of combat sport. It's hooliganism, pure and simple," he said.

Earlier this month, 35 men were arrested in northwestern and southwestern Poland in a similar sweep against fist-happy fans of second-division clubs Pogon Szczecin and Piast Gliwice.

On Monday, meanwhile, 42 people were detained on suspicion of being part of an armed criminal gang involved in drug trafficking and extortion. The leader of the hooligan "firm" of top-flight club Legia Warsaw was reportedly among them.

Polish police estimate that the nation of 38.2 million has a hooligan hardcore of up to 5,000.

Frequently accused of doing too little to tackle the problem, and keenly aware of the Euro 2012 spotlight, the authorities launched a major crackdown after the violence-marred 2011 cup final between Legia Warsaw and Lech Poznan.

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