reign of terror

PARIS - Dressed in designer labels and raising the occasional Nazi salute, the drunken mob marched through Paris' Left Bank en route to a match featuring the city's premier soccer club, Paris-Saint Germain.

PARIS - Dressed in designer labels and raising the occasional Nazi salute, the drunken mob marched through Paris' Left Bank en route to a match featuring the city's premier soccer club, Paris-Saint Germain.

"PSG, hoo-li-gan!" reverberated their chilling cry.

Singling out a lone Arab man, they kicked and pummelled him as he struggled against the rain of hate. Passengers finally freed him, while riot police nearby looked on.

Weeks earlier at the same spot, a similar mob doused a group of black train passengers with beer and shouted monkey chants at a black woman carrying her small child until she fled frantically up an escalator.

The Associated Press was a rare witness to these recent incidents showing that PSG, police and the French government have failed to root out racist violence that has plagued the club for years.

Both times - before the League Cup final between PSG and Lens on March 29, and before the French Cup final against Lyon on May 24 - the incidents occurred not at a stadium but in the Saint-Michel train station, a bustling transport hub right in the middle of Paris' famed Latin Quarter.

Both times, there were no preventative measures put in place against drunken hate mobs intent on violence, no police escort and no police intervention.

Racism has also dogged France's national team, which plays Romania in the opening Group C match today in the European Championship.

France captain Patrick Vieira, who is black, once said he'd "think twice before setting foot" again at PSG's Parc des Princes stadium after fans howled monkey chants. Former PSG and France midfielder Vikash Dhorasoo was racially insulted when playing for the club in 2005-2006.

The International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, known by its French acronym Licra, asked for governmental action after the March 29 train incident.

On that day, about a dozen black passengers had to flee up an escalator as PSG thugs coming down the other way doused them with beer, hurled bottles, and several thugs started to give chase.

"One colour, white power!" shouted some of the all-white mob, thumping the roof of the train in a deafening noise.

When the doors opened at the Chatelet Station on the Right Bank, monkey chants and insults were aimed at black passengers on the platform.

No police were nearby, and there was little that witnesses, standing on moving escalators, could do to intervene.

The violence resurfaced before the May 24 final. PSG hooligans looking for non-white targets assaulted an Arab man as he waited for his train to depart.

They punched and kicked the man, who tried to fight back, until passengers eventually managed to force the train door shut. The man struggled to get back on his feet, holding the back of his head and appearing in great pain. Standing close by were a group of CRS riot police, who did not intervene.

Two days later, Licra asked authorities to "identify as soon as possible the troublemakers from the Parisian club". Two people suspected of involvement in the attacks were detained last week after a witness belatedly came forward, but were later let go, a spokesman for Paris police headquarters said.

Surveillance footage did not provide sufficient proof of their participation, said the spokesman, who was not authorised to be named.

The Paris police spokesman would not comment on why riot police did not respond to the May 24 incident, or on the limited preventative measures for PSG games. The French interior ministry did not immediately respond to an e-mailed message seeking comment.

Interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie recently vowed to tackle "the violence that has become a plague in sports in recent years". The government did take action against PSG fans after the March 29 League Cup final - but over an insulting banner unfurled during the match, not over racist incidents.

The banner called people from the rival team's city, Lens, "unemployed, inbred paedophiles". The PSG fan group believed behind it was the Boulogne Boys, which has a history of violence and some links to PSG's far-right element.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy was at the Stade de France for the match, and security officials removed the banner within minutes. Interior minister Michele Alliot-Marie responded by disbanding the Boulogne Boys, the first time the government did this to a supporters group. - Sapa-AP