Ukraine's president downplays Euro 2012 racism fears

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych said football hooligans would not be allowed into stadiums

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Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych has downplayed fears of racist attacks during the Euro 2012 football championships in the country.

In an interview with the BBC, he said hooligans were known to the authorities and security services "will be watching all the matches closely".

His comments follow a BBC documentary which uncovered widespread racism at Ukrainian football matches.

The interview also touched on the case of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

She has been jailed on charges of abuse of power. The case has caused an international outcry, with some observers arguing the trial was politically motivated.

Racist hooliganism 'tiny'

"We know that this issue [Ms Tymoshenko's case] hinders Ukraine's European integration," Mr Yanukovych said.

Analysis

President Viktor Yanukovich is a man in diplomatic hot water, but in his interview with me, he showed little tension.

He is still not sure whether or not any major European politicians will visit Ukraine during the Euro 2012 tournament. Even the football-mad Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has made it clear she is waiting to see what happens in Ukraine.

So today he played a new card.

In the interview, Mr Yanukovych revealed that he had appointed an American law firm to do a legal audit of the prosecution and trial of his great political rival Yulia Tymoshenko.

And when it came to concerns about racism and violence among some Ukrainian football fans, he brushed them aside, saying his security services had it all under control.

"We have approached foreign lawyers... they will carry out a legal audit of Tymoshenko's case. Very soon we will hear their findings."

On the issue of hooliganism during the Euro 2012 championships, which are being held in Ukraine and Poland this summer, he said the problem in Ukraine was probably "smaller" than in other countries.

"We have a list of people who behaved aggressively at football matches. Their numbers are tiny, they are known to us and preventive measures will be taken," he said.

Last week, a BBC Panorama documentary exposed widespread racist and anti-Semitic chanting, Nazi salutes and attacks on minorities at football matches in Ukraine.

After watching the footage, footballer Sol Campbell told fans to "stay at home, watch it on TV. Don't even risk it… because you could end up coming back in a coffin".

Despite the warning from the former England captain, President Yanukovych said his country had "created all the infrastructure for football fans to feel good and for Ukraine to show all its capabilities".

"We are waiting for our guests with great pleasure," he said.

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