Soccer-Euro-Polish PM: Time to show Russians we're good hosts
(Note language in paragraph 15 may offend some readers)
WARSAW, June 12 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Donald Tusk challenged Poles to show real hospitality to Russian fans arriving for a politically-fraught clash between the eastern European neighbours on Tuesday, seen as a potential flashpoint at soccer's European Championship.
Thousands of Poles and Russians flooded into Warsaw on Tuesday, mingling in the huge city centre fan zones where many without tickets will watch the game, kicking off at 8.45 p.m. local time (2045 GMT).
Fans camped in the Zoliborz area in the north of the city, a stronghold for the Solidarity opposition movement in the communist era, held a Poland-Russia friendly match to demonstrate that a recent dip in relations would not spoil what has so far been a relatively peaceful tournament.
"We wanted to show that we can play together in a friendly way," organiser Jacek Kaminski told Reuters.
"Polish and Russian relations in the past were maybe hard, hurtful, but that is the past and we are about working for the future."
Around 20,000 Russian fans are expected for the Group A game at a time when relations between the Poles and their eastern neighbour have been strained by a plane crash in Russia two years ago that killed Poland's president and 95 others.
Plans by around 5,000 Russians to march together to the stadium in the east of Warsaw later on Tuesday, have made authorities nervous and some 6,000 police are on duty to quell any violence.
Holding up the example of two Polish fans who handed in a Russian's lost wallet containing around 5,000 euros in cash on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tusk said it was up to ordinary Poles to ensure all visitors continued to feel welcome and safe.
"Today's game and the next phases of the tournament will be a greater challenge for us," Tusk told a news conference.
"The police are well prepared for these challenges but without tolerance ... and a rejection of violence, no police in the world can control the actions of everyone. It's in our hands. We need to show that Poland is a hospitable place for all tourists and fans, with no exceptions."
The run-up to the tournament, which Poland is co-hosting with eastern neighbour Ukraine, had been marked by fears of racism and bigotry. A few isolated incidents aside, little of that has materialised.
As many as 100,000 fans are expected to gather in Warsaw's main city centre party zone and the atmosphere early on Tuesday was relaxed and friendly.
"There will be no fighting here today," promised Polish fan Artur Wecki. "The atmosphere will be super and we will all have a great party - no matter if it is with Greeks, Spaniards or Russians."
On the bridge over which the Russian fans will march to Warsaw's spanking new national stadium, overnight graffiti had appeared in English.
"Welcome to Warsaw brothers, Russians," it said. "Fuck politics. Let's drink Wodka tonight." (Additional reporting by Marcin Goettig; Writing by Patrick Graham, editing by Ed Osmond)
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