Macron backs interior minister as criticism mounts over Champions League disorder

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Champions League Final - Liverpool v Real Madrid
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By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Caroline Pailliez

PARIS (Reuters) -French President Emmanuel Macron backed his interior minister Gerald Darmanin as pressure mounted against the government over how France handled last weekend's Champions League soccer final in Paris, which was marred by crowd trouble.

Government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire said Darmanin had Macron's "full confidence" despite chaotic scenes at European soccer's season-ending showpiece between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The match, which Real won 1-0, was delayed by more than 30 minutes after officers forcefully held back people trying to enter the ground. Riot police sprayed tear gas on fans, including women and children.

The events have become a political issue ahead of this month's parliamentary elections and embarrassed France, which is due to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and the Olympic Games in 2024.

Opponents of Macron have said the events highlight how he has failed to tackle crime and security.

Darmanin reaffirmed that much of the blame lay with Liverpool fans and that 30,000-40,000 arrived without valid tickets, which led to a crowd crush at the stadium and people trying to force their way in.

Darmanin's version of events has been challenged by Liverpool fans who attended and say the vast majority of their supporters were well-behaved but were treated in a heavy-handed manner by French riot police.

"Half of those who were arrested, those who jumped over the barriers, were British," Darmanin told a French Senate hearing, referring to arrests made in the Stade de France precinct.

Darmanin has acknowledged police were caught off-guard by several hundred local "delinquents" who turned up to cause trouble.

He said authorities had been focused on the risk of potential trouble from Liverpool supporters.

"It is clear -- all the security services notes say so - that the people of Liverpool pose public order problems. Not all its supporters, but a small part of its supporters," Darmanin added later to French Senators.

Darmanin and French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, who was also grilled by French Senators, reaffirmed there were no problems with Real Madrid supporters.

The government's political opponents have also challenged Darmanin's version, with some saying the trouble was mainly caused by young, local criminals rather than Liverpool fans.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also expressed his disappointment at how Liverpool fans were treated, while European soccer's governing body UEFA has commissioned an independent report into the trouble.

Many Liverpool fans tried to force their way into the ground after organisers lifted a first ticket checkpoint to avoid a crush, according to a report by the Paris police chief to Darmanin seen by Reuters.

Television footage showed images of young men who did not appear to be wearing red Liverpool jerseys jumping the stadium gates as hapless security staff stood by. Fans outside, including women and youngsters, were tear-gassed by police.

Yann Bastiere, a senior official with the Unite SGP Police union, told Reuters his colleagues had not reported problems with Liverpool fans.

"On the other hand, there was a lot of petty crime. People were attacked, there were robberies. There were (local)delinquents, opportunists, who took advantage of the crowds. Some were trying to get into the stadium. They were jumping over the gates," Bastiere said.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Caroline Pailliez; Additional reporting by Manuel Ausloos;Editing by Catherine Evans, Angus MacSwan, John Stonestreet and Toby Davis)

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