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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deadly Riot Erupts After Cup Defeat

APSoccer fans taking out their frustrations on a car parked across the street from the Duma after watching the national team lose to Japan in the World Cup finals Sunday.
Drunken soccer fans rioted in downtown Moscow on Sunday, leaving at least one man dead and dozens injured, in the worst street violence the capital has seen since the bombing of the parliament building in 1993.

The boisterous crowd, made up predominantly of young men, set fire to cars, broke windows and beat up anyone from fellow fans to police officers as the Russian national team lost to Japan in an important -- but not deciding -- match of the World Cup tournament.

Some 7,000 to 8,000 fans had gathered at Manezh Square, a stone's throw from the Kremlin, to watch the afternoon game on one of several huge screens set up by the city government, Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin told reporters. Only 120 police officers had been dispatched to maintain order at the downtown site, where about 500 fans watched last week as Russia defeated Tunisia in its debut at the tournament.

Sunday's melee began during the second half of the match, soon after the Japanese had scored what would be their winning goal and Russia failed to even the score with a devastating missed shot.

Brothers Nikolai and Alexei Panin, 16 and 18, who had been among the viewers, said the crowd was full of drunken fans, who sent beer and vodka bottles sailing into the air as it became clearer that Russia would not make a comeback.

"The bottles rained back down on people. There was a lot of bleeding and a lot of guys bandaging their heads," Alexei said. Soon after, the brothers saw a fist fight break out nearby and spread like a ripple effect through the crowd.

"The cops didn't do anything," Alexei said, adding that the fight raged on for at least 15 minutes before police tried to interfere.

By early evening, several hundred rioters moved up Tverskaya Ulitsa smashing store windows and glass advertising stands. Most windows on the first two floors of the Moskva hotel were broken, as were several windows at the State Duma and the historic Yeliseyevsky food store on Tverskaya. Half a dozen restaurants on the fashionable pedestrian strip Kamergersky Pereulok were also vandalized.

At least seven cars near the Duma had been torched and dozens throughout the downtown area had been overturned or smashed.

Firefighters arrived before police did and the rioters attacked their trucks, The Associated Press said. Interfax reported that an ambulance was set on fire and its driver and a doctor were beaten.

When police did arrive , some fans reportedly tried to help detain rioters.

As of 10:30 p.m., some 60 people had been detained and about 50 hospitalized, Interfax reported, citing police and health authorities.

Conflicting reports continued into the evening about the man who had been reported killed. The cause appeared to be knife wounds, but some officials said the unidentified victim had been killed before the match.

Many Muscovites, including prominent politicians like Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov, blamed the disaster on the city government and police. In a call-in survey of 2,242 people on TVS television, 745 callers said law enforcement officials were responsible, while 1,113 said they blamed the "politicians" who organized the public broadcasts. Only 384 callers blamed the marauding fans.

Moscow officials insisted the violence was not their fault.

"The fans' actions were barbaric," Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev told reporters. "We put up these screens for them, like in civilized places, but it turned out they were not ready for this."

Police chief Pronin said he assessed his men's response to the violence as "positive," adding that the rioters were not fans but "a drunken throng."

Interfax quoted Mayor Yury Luzhkov's spokesman Sergei Tsoi as saying that City Hall had decided to suspend the big-screen broadcasts. Tsoi also called on journalists who had filmed or photographed the riot to submit their pictures to investigators to help identify the guilty.

Shantsev said the city would reimburse car and store owners whose property was damaged during the rampage. But victims of the violence said this could prove difficult, as many police officers refused to fill out reports or document the damage.

A number of witnesses and news reports said that some rioters were screaming out racist and neo-fascist slogans. The crowd included some vocal supporters of Alexei Podberyozkin's nationalist Spiritual Heritage movement and other waving the ultra-right's yellow, white and black flag.

Television reports said that a Japanese student in Moscow to watch the 12th Tchaikovsky music competition had been beaten by soccer fans, but Interfax later clarified that the attack had taken place before the start of the match. The student was treated by a doctor at the Japanese embassy, the report said.

State-run RTR television, which often displays a pro-Kremlin stance in its news programs, tried to shore up some political capital after the riot. Commenting during the Vesti program, anchorman Yevgeny Revenko pointed out that the violence broke out meters away from the Duma, where just last week deputies gave initial approval to a controversial bill on extremism, which human rights activists have condemned as a potential Kremlin tool to suppress public protest.

"Today's events prove how necessary this bill really is," Revenko said. He added that "it was clear" why the Communists and Agrarians voted down the bill, but wondered rhetorically why it had been opposed by the liberal Yabloko party, "whose constituency is usually so sensitive to any manifestations of extremism."

Yabloko lawmaker Sergei Mitrokhin said in an interview with Revenko that a separate focus of the investigation should be what he called "inaction" by police and whom, if anyone, it benefited.

"A common motto of the police is to be prepared for and to prevent terrorist attacks. Now, all of a sudden, [we have] such behavior when not terrorists but ordinary hoodlums, drunk with their own impunity, have gone this far," he said. "At a certain stage, the main cause behind these pogroms was precisely the impunity of these thugs."

A driver standing next to his destroyed Volkswagen near Manezh Square called the fans "pigs."

"I knew these kinds of things happened in England. But to think it could happen here, that's just so painful."