Turks prepare for the worst, hope for the best

ISTANBUL: Turkish riot police staged crowd control exercises on Tuesday ahead of this weekend's highly charged Euro 2004 qualifier between Turkey and England in Istanbul when more than 5,000 officers will be deployed to prevent any trouble. 

In a regular training session, 80 officers with riot shields and backed by armoured vehicles confronted a noisy crowd of demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails – a simulation which authorities are confident will not become a reality on Saturday. 

Tight security is planned to prevent England fans attending the match, and police have sent a list with names of around 1,000 known English hooligans to Turkish airports and other border gates to prevent their entry. 

Amid all the security preparations, Istanbul police chief Celalettin Cerrah sought to reassure England that there will be no trouble at the game, which Turkey need to win to qualify automatically for next year's Finals. 

“English people should not expect any incident, nothing will happen. We are very relaxed on this issue because we have an experienced team and we have taken all necessary measures,” Cerrah said in an interview at police headquarters. 

Recent clashes between rival supporters and provocative comments attributed to officials from the two countries have soured the atmosphere ahead of the match. 

In a goodwill gesture, an English FA delegation handed out presents at a children's home in Istanbul on Tuesday and made a plea for fans to behave themselves. 

“This game is for the Turkish supporters. It is their country, their home game. Don't let's spoil it by some silly events which have nothing to do with the game itself,” former Northern Ireland manager Lawrie McMenemy said. 

In April, England beat Turkey 2-0 in Sunderland but the game was marred by racist chanting by home fans and a pitch invasion which resulted in a record UEFA fine. 

The FA wrote an open letter to supporters last month warning England could be expelled from Euro 2004 if trouble erupted in the Sukru Saracoglu stadium, on the Asian shores of Istanbul. 

Turkish police have held three meetings with their English counterparts to discuss security measures and are cooperating closely before the match. 

Cerrah said the police would establish a triple security cordon around the stadium, where all spectators will have to prove their identity with Turkish ID cards and will be searched for objects that could be used as projectiles. 

“We are telling people that mobile phones, bottles or anything that can be thrown onto the pitch will be confiscated.” 

Alcohol sales near the stadium will be banned on match day. 

English police officers will also be on hand to assist in identifying potential hooligans at the border. 

“The English police have given us a list of 1,000 people which we have sent to all air, sea and land entry points. We have been asked to turn them away,” Cerrah said. 

Relations between the two countries' supporters reached an all-time low in 2000 after two Leeds United fans were stabbed to death amid trouble before a UEFA Cup match against Galatasaray. 

That clash occurred among the city centre bars and restaurants on the European side of the city, where police will mount special patrols at the weekend. – Reuters  

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