“What the president wants … is for the light to shine on what really happened, in full transparency and very quickly,” government spokeswoman Olivia Grégoire told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting, adding that Macron still supports Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who has come under fire as the official in charge of the nation’s police force.
The Champions League final match at the Stade de France, in which Real Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0, was delayed by more than half an hour after police held back people trying to enter the stadium grounds. Riot police tear-gassed some fans, including children.
Police and French officials say Liverpool fans, either without tickets or with fake tickets, were trying to force their way into the arena.
Darmanin has said there were forged tickets “on an industrial scale” and many Liverpool fans turned up without valid tickets, leading to a crush around the stadium. The police action prevented deaths from occurring, he said.
However, Darmanin’s version of events has been challenged by Liverpool fans present at the match and Darmanin has been criticised by politicians in both France and Britain over the handling of the event.
When questioned about the event at a press briefing on Wednesday, Grégoire said Macron “has full confidence in Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister”.
But she admitted the situation could have been handled better. “Simply put, could we have done better and managed it better? Yes,” said Grégoire, adding her apologies to fans whose evenings were ruined by the disorder.
Tensions between France and Britain
Darmanin has been accused of lying when he said that 30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool fans had turned up at the stadium either “without tickets or with counterfeited tickets”.
He also claimed that as many as 70 percent of tickets were found to be fraudulent by staff at the first security checkpoints outside the Stade de France.
Sources within UEFA and the French football federation told AFP on Tuesday that only 2,800 fake tickets were detected at the entrance gates of the stadium, suggesting the problem was more about managing flows of people outside.
Darmanin, 39, has rejected criticism of the police – calling it “rather low and inappropriate” – despite images showing some officers firing teargas and pepper spray that affected children and disabled fans.
Others who attended the game complained about the police causing bottlenecks in the lead-up to the stadium and keeping the stadium gates locked, leading to the start of the match being delayed by 36 minutes.
The scenes have caused renewed tensions between France and Britain, whose ties are already strained, and have become a domestic political headache for the government less than two weeks before parliamentary elections.
Darmanin is a pugnacious rightwinger from northern France who was recently extended in his role as interior minister by Macron following presidential elections in April.
He is an ardent defender of the French police against recurrent criticism of their tactics, once saying that “when I hear the term ‘police violence’, personally I choke”.
The remark in July 2020 came amid a debate in France about the use of so-called “chokeholds” by police that had been linked to the deaths of two men of African origin.
The leftwing Liberation newspaper depicted him on its front page on Wednesday with his nose stretched out like Pinocchio.
The newspaper’s editorial, headlined “Lie”, said the final “risks remaining in the annals of the republic long even after it has been forgotten by football fans”.
‘An explanation that does not make sense’
Senior leftwing opposition MP Manuel Bompard told Franceinfo on Wednesday that “the explanation given by Mr Darmanin … is an explanation that does not make sense”.
“When you make a mistake – and mistakes happen – the best thing is to acknowledge your error, not to invent fake figures to try to hide it,” he said.
Darmanin and Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera are to appear later Wednesday before a Senate committee hearing where they will face questions about security at the game, which tarnished France’s image ahead of its hosting of the rugby World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2024.
“What we expect is clarity and, I almost want to say, honesty,” the head of the Senate committee, Francois-Noël Buffet, told Franceinfo radio.
On the number of counterfeited tickets, “we need to know what the truth is. The two ministers need to say what they are basing their statements on”, added Buffet, who is from the opposition Les Républicains party.
Liverpool’s chief executive Billy Hogan said the club had received more than 5,000 complaints from supporters in 24 hours regarding the chaos.
“We’re aware there were many fans who were injured on Saturday evening and we’ve asked UEFA for their match day log, which includes any medical incidents for the night, so we can reach out to those supporters and families to help if we can,” said Hogan.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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