By Alastair Macdonald and Philip O’Connor
LILLE, France (Reuters) – At least 36 people were arrested and 16 taken to hospital on Wednesday after French police clashed with England soccer fans in the northern city of Lille, the regional police force said in a statement.
French riot police charged groups of rowdy, chanting English soccer fans and used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse them on Wednesday night on the eve of England’s Euro 2016 game against Wales.
Authorities had flooded the city’s streets with police earlier in the day and imposed strict alcohol bans to try to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the England-Russia match in Marseille on Saturday.
While they appeared to have kept the two sets of fans apart, tension mounted in the early evening with police repeatedly using pepper spray, tear gas and acoustic grenades to suppress fans near the central train station.
Just after midnight English fans suddenly began chasing away locals celebrating France’s victory over Albania.
Police moved swiftly to drive them away from the area in front of the station and one group was again pepper-sprayed in a doorway.
Police dog handlers joined up with officers clad in riot gear to chase the England fans further up the street.
Both Russia and England have been threatened with expulsion from the competition after hundreds of fans clashed for three days in Marseille, drawing volleys of tear gas from riot police who struggled to contain the skirmishes.
There was no immediate reaction from UEFA, Europe’s soccer governing body.
Many locals near the central Flandres train station were caught up in brief episodes of panic caused by the gas and loud bangs.
Police managed to initially separate the groups as more than 100 England fans were dispersed.
“Shame,” some shouted at the police.
“Why did they have to do that?” one asked.
Large numbers of police were in Lille as Russia, which was sanctioned by UEFA after some of its fans in Marseille clashed with England supporters, faced Slovakia earlier on Wednesday.
England takes on Wales on Thursday in Lens, about 40 kilometers from Lille.
(Additional reporting by Philip O’Connor, writing by Julien Pretot and John Irish; Editing by Ossian Shine, Toni Reinhold)