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Saint-Etienne's security setup upsets bar owners

9   //    20 Jun 2016, 11:20 IST
Workman make final preparations for the UEFA 2016 European Championship at Geoffroy Guichard stadium, in Saint-Etienne, France, June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Robert Pratta
Workman make final preparations for the UEFA 2016 European Championship at Geoffroy Guichard stadium, in Saint-Etienne, France, June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

By Johnny Cotton

SAINT-ETIENNE, France (Reuters) - Bars in Saint-Etienne battened down the hatches on Sunday as thousands of England soccer fans prepared to descend on the French town, bringing fears of the violence that marred the start of the Euro 2016 tournament.

    Local authorities have reduced opening hours, banned glasses and takeaway alcohol sales and ordered sidewalk seating to shut down so street furniture won't fly in brawls like the clashes that erupted between rival groups of fans and the police at England's opening game in Marseille on June 11.

    In Saint-Etienne's main square on Sunday, bar staff packed up chairs and secured tables to conform to the new rules before fans arrived in force for Group B game against Slovakia at 9 p.m. (1900GMT) on Monday.

    But many local business owners said they had been counting on the revenue the influx of visitors would generate and had hired extra staff and invested in their premises especially for the tournament.

    The Chez Colette bar was shuttered on Sunday afternoon and owner Jerome Sauvignet said he could not open it as it was full of tables and chairs which were meant to be set out in the square.

    "It was very important for us, we all took on extra staff, we all invested in it, we bought umbrellas, we bought new fittings for the awning and then today we see that we’re losing money," Sauvignet told Reuters.

    "Just because it happened once in Marseille doesn't mean it's going to happen here. We have the police, we have everyone else, I don't see why they'd do it here," he added.

Local prefect Evence Richard, who set out the new rules, said he had consulted local business owners. But he acknowledged that some were unhappy about the lost revenue.

    "They saw it as a big party where they could do a lot of business and earn some money," he said. "On the other hand they know that if there's a problem, if the police get involved, that will turn off customers. And if things get broken they’re the ones who'll foot the bill."

    He said they also had information that some England and Slovak fans might use the match to settle old scores.

    He said some 100-150 extra police were to be deployed in addition to the 1,100 already slated to cover the Euro matches.

Julien Jeanroch owns two bars on the Jean Jaures square, a stone’s throw from Richard's office.

    Police officers enforcing the ban on outdoor seating passed by on Sunday morning to tell his staff to pack up the tables and chairs along the pavement.

    "The prefect is playing the security card, we're playing the business card, and at some stage we need to reach a compromise between security and business," he said.

Referring to Marseille, he said: "We hope not to have that spectacle here in Saint-Etienne."

    Local businesses looked to circumvent the ban by setting up bars in the streets, without tables and chairs, preventing would-be patrons from sitting down.

    England fans were arriving in the mining and industrial town in dribs and drabs on Sunday afternoon to a soundtrack of retro pop music blaring from speakers set up in the square.

    Many felt they were being stigmatised and insisted that the match would pass without incident.

    "I think we got a bit of a reputation back in the 1980s but I think generally most English fans come away just for a good time. They like a drink, they like to sing but no, I don't see trouble," David Ellis from Nottingham said.

Paul Brown, an English supporter who travelled from Bath, also expressed doubts over possible trouble.

"The English are here just to drink and to have a good time. They're not here to hurt anyone," he said. "As long as we're left alone, we're not going to hurt anyone."

At the time Slovakia plays England in Saint-Etienne at 1900 GMT, Russia will confront Wales in Toulouse.

Local authorities there said security had also been beefed up with Welsh and Russian security officers added to the 600 extra police officers sent on site.

Bars surrounding the stadium were also ordered to close from Sunday as 20,000 fans are expected to turn up.

French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve was due to chair a meeting with UEFA representatives on Monday morning in Paris to discuss security issues.

(Additionnal reporting by Julie Rimbert; Writing by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Tom Heneghan)

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