England fans beaten in Moscow, say police

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MOSCOW, Oct 17 (Reuters) Men dressed in black have beaten up at least ten England soccer fans in the centre of Moscow ahead of today's Euro 2008 qualifier between Russia and England, news agencies quoted police as saying.

Officials have accused English fans of drinking excessively in the build-up to the game at the Luzhniki stadium where 5,000 police officers will be employed to keep order.

More than 75,000 tickets have been sold for the game.

''British subjects who have come to Moscow to support their team against Russia are not acting properly. There is the feeling that they have come to drink,'' Itar-Tass quoted a police spokesman as saying.

Police escorted several inebriated fans back to their hotels and there were five fights recorded overnight, the spokesman said.

The British Embassy in Moscow was advising fans against trying to get into the Russian sector of the stadium, but for those still planning to do so it offered the following guidance: ''Be sober,'' the embassy said in a statement. ''Be as inconspicuous as possible -- don't wear England scarves, shirts etc.'' An English fan in Moscow told Reuters he had found the city a friendly place and enjoyed a quiet night with friends in a local pub.

''We are queuing up for our tickets now. I think it is too cold for any trouble,'' said Michael Dowson.

''Everyone has been nice and friendly. We were in a comfy little Russian bar last night and had quite a few drinks but everything was calm. We are just waiting for the match,'' he said.

A win in Moscow would secure England's place in next year's finals with a match to spare.

The match comes amid strained diplomatic relations between Russia and Britain over the murder of Russian emigre Alexander Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital last year after receiving a dose of radioactive polonium 210.

Andrei Lugovoy, the man Britain wants to put on trial for Litvinenko's murder, wished the Russian team well. He has always denied any involvement in the murder.

''I hope the team will play a good game,'' Lugovoy told RIA news agency. ''Russia's team has major potential and if they can realise that it will be a victory for Russia.'' Lugovoy said he would watch the game at home.

Reuters BJR RN2001

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