French police gear up for final of football's Africa Cup of Nations

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Photograph: Zakaria Abdelkafi/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of police will be on the streets in French cities for the Algeria-Senegal football final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Friday night after more than 200 people were arrested when Algeria fans celebrated their semi-final win on Sunday.

France, which was a colonial power in Algeria for more than 130 years, has a large number of dual nationality French-Algerians. More than half of the Algerian football team are players who were born, raised or trained in France.

When, on Sunday, Algeria reached the final of the tournament – which is being held in Egypt – large crowds gathered for celebrations in the streets of cities such as Marseille and Paris.

Cars drove around central Paris beeping, with people hanging from windows waving Algerian flags, and crowds gathered on the Champs-Elysées to cheer.

But a minority of people were stopped by police after smashing windows or attempting to break into shops. Riot police fired teargas to disperse crowds around the Champs-Elysées and 169 people were arrested in Paris.

In total, 282 arrests were made across France after the semi-final, most for refusing to comply with police orders, throwing projectiles or endangering life.

Algerian supporters celebrate in Marseille after the victory. Photograph: Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

In Marseille, groups of celebrating Algerian fans had headed towards the Old Port on Sunday evening just after Bastille Day fireworks had finished, but police held them back. There were skirmishes between police and youths and a number of arrests for throwing projectiles.

In Lyon, police said there had been clashes with security forces and a number of cars set alight on the outskirts of the city.

It is common for hundreds of arrests to be made after important football celebrations in France. A year ago, when France won the World Cup, a large store was smashed and looted on the Champs-Elysées. Police fired teargas and water cannon and 292 arrests were made across the country overnight.

But Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, far-right National Rally argued that the Africa Cup of Nations celebrations showed France’s failure to integrate people with Algerian roots.

Le Pen’s party had asked police to close off the Champs-Elysées during an earlier Algeria match last week, saying in a statement: “Far from being demonstrations of joy by simple football fans, as commentators describe them, this is about real demonstrations of force and the aim is to ostensibly show a massive presence and a rejection of France.”

Algeria supporters on the Champs-Elysées. Photograph: Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images

One member of Le Pen’s party had suggested there should be a public order ban on waving the Algerian flag.

Police in Paris have refused to close the Champs-Elysées for the final on Friday and said the 2,500 officers stationed in the area were sufficient. The Paris police chief told Le Parisien he had “no problem with people coming to show their joy on the world’s most beautiful avenue” provided there was no damage or destruction.

Robert Ménard, the far-right mayor of Béziers, said the fans celebrating Algeria’s win were French “on paper” only.

But others said football should bring people together, not divide them.

Riyad Mahrez, the Manchester City midfielder whose injury-time free kick sent a victorious Algeria into the final on Sunday, replied to Le Pen’s party on Twitter.

When Julien Odoul, a local National Rally politician in Burgundy, suggested France should support Nigeria against Algeria in the semi-final to “avoid violence and pillaging, and a sea of Algerian flags”, Mahrez replied that football was greater than hatred.