The Belgian interior minister said today he will ask that British soccer teams be banned from Belgium following violence at a championship game that left 38 dead and hundreds injured.
Fans of the Liverpool soccer team were widely blamed by government officials and witnesses for the fatal stampede before the European Cup championship yesterday, in which scores of supporters of Juventus, the Italian club from Turin, were killed or injured.
"The Belgian population does not want to see something like this happen again," said Belgian Interior Minister Charles-Ferdinand Nothomb. He said he would ask the government to exclude British soccer teams "until guarantees can be given" that the violence would not be repeated.
Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens, agreeing with Nothomb, said his country "cannot afford the risk" of allowing British teams to play in Belgium.
The president of the European Football Union, known throughout Europe by its French acronym UEFA, hinted strongly that English teams, whose fans have gained a reputation for violent behavior at games, would be excluded from European competition or suffer other restrictions.
While the Belgian officials specified that they were referring to all British teams, UEFA President Jacques Georges implied that only teams from England -- and not those from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland -- would be sanctioned.
Belgian officials were criticized for failing to keep the rival fans apart and not stationing enough police inside Brussels' Heysel Stadium to prevent or stop the violence.
Speaking at a press conference, Nothomb defended the security measures taken by his government but said, "They are never good enough."
The Interior Ministry said 38 persons were killed in the violence -- 28 Italians, four Belgians, one Briton, one French fan and four unidentified persons. The official toll was one less than the 39 reported dead yesterday. Ninety of the 437 persons treated for injuries remained hospitalized. Police said they had taken 16 persons into custody at the stadium, including 10 Britons.
Witnesses said that about one hour before the start of the game, Liverpool supporters and Italian fans began exchanging taunts and throwing bottles and other objects at each other. The two groups were only separated by a weak metal fence. The British fans, who greatly outnumbered the Italians, finally pushed over the fence and surged forward, causing panic among the Italians.
The Italian fans, desperately attempting to escape, were packed up against a wall at the end of the section. Part of the wall collapsed under the pressure, as did a fence and barrier at the base of the stands. Bodies tumbled forward and piled up at the base, where many victims were suffocated or trampled to death.
Nothomb said that about 40 of the 220 police stationed inside the 60,000-seat stadium were in the stands separating the two groups, but this was disputed by several witnesses. They said the police attempted to wade into the melee but were forced to retreat when the British fans pelted them with cans, bottles, poles and other objects.
The majority of the police, who Nothomb said numbered 780, were stationed outside the stadium, a decision that was criticized by soccer federation president Georges.
Nothomb said he had ordered an inquiry into the events in the stadium, but added that police forces were stretched thin because they had to maintain patrols throughout the city and at the port of Ostende in case of further violence.
One Liverpool fan, Jim Montgomery, who was sitting among the Italians who clashed with the British, said, "I saw a young Italian girl, she couldn't have been more than 15, stuck on the top of the safety fence dripping in blood. Do you know what the bastards English did? They tried to 'help' her over the fence by chucking bricks at her. They're animals. What are people going to think of us?"
UEFA, whose officials examined the stadium today, will meet July 2 to decide what steps to take in response to the violence. Georges hinted that the group would impose sanctions against English teams.
"It is going to be necessary to eliminate certain clubs from European soccer competition; otherwise we are going to have another tragedy like this one," Georges said.