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tujue Feb 10

This year's European Championship has -started with a bang and sadly it's not because of the soccer. The scenes which saw Russian supporters steam into England fans after the final whistle of their team's draw in Marseille on Saturday night were not what UEFA's festival of soccer wants to make worldwide headlines for.

There was panic in the stands as thousands of England fans - men Dave Henderson Jersey , women and children - tried to escape after Russians climbed over the barriers intended to separate rival fans and started attacking supporters. Reports that it was a pre-meditated attack - the balaclava-clad Russian hooligans were said to be wearing gum shields and wielding telescopic truncheons - makes this all the more worrying.

What is clear is that there were violent clashes inside the stadium and the stewards were ill-equipped to deal with it. What is also clear is that some in the Russian section were able to sneak flares and fireworks into the stadium at a tournament where security is meant to be at the highest possible level.

Questions will no doubt be asked about whether the Russians should be allowed to host the World Cup in two years. More so given the bizarre response to the incidents at the Stade Velodrome. Russia's sports minister initially denied that there was any violence before backtracking, while the head of the Russian soccer fans union told the nation's Tass news agency that "there was no clash."

But UEFA certainly has questions to ask of themselves. Why was the game played at night? Why was the separation of opposing supporters not larger and better manned? Why were England fans who bought tickets from the English FA in the Russian section? Would -police have been a better option than stewards? Did they liaise enough the soccer intelligence units of their member nations? More significantly, why was the game allowed to be held in Marseille in the first place?

The city was the scene for some deplorable clashes between England fans and French police during the 1998 World Cup. It is also home to a soccer club with a well-known hooligan element. And from Thursday it has played host to three days of violence between English, Russian and local hooligans with a response in kind from the French police.

While there was good reason soccer hooliganism was known as an English disease, its unwelcome return doesn't solely rest at the feet of England's so-called fans. They are far from blameless but calls in Spanish newspaper AS for only England to be kicked out of the Euros miss the point.

AS is right in that there needs to be consequences and UEFA's threat to England and Russia that they both face expulsion if there is any more violence is the right response to Marseille. The same threat should hang over Poland, Northern Ireland and France for their clashes in Nice, as it should for any other country's supporters who partake in such idiocy over the next month. Kick them all out, no one wanted a 24-team Euros anyway.

ISLAMABAD — A key gathering opened on Monday in Islamabad in which four major countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States — hope to lay the roadmap to peace for the war-shattered Afghan nation.

The meeting comes as battlefield losses in Afghanistan are mounting and entire swaths of the country that cost hundreds of U.S.-led coalition and Afghan military lives to secure slip back into Taliban hands. Taliban representatives have not been invited to the talks, vowing to talk only to the U.S. and not to the Afghan government.

As the gathering got under way, host Pakistan — seen as key to bringing the warring Taliban factions to the table — cautioned of the difficulties ahead.

Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Pakistani prime minister on foreign affairs, warned against prematurely deciding which Taliban factions are ready to talk, urging instead "confidence building" measures to get even the recalcitrant Taliban to the negotiating table.

But analysts and participants alike say that while there are four countries talking, much of the hope for progress toward peace rests with Pakistan — which is accused of harboring some of the fiercest factions of the Taliban, including the Haqqani group, a U.S.-declared terrorist organization. Pakistan says its influence over the Taliban is overrated.

"Even at the best of times they (Taliban) didn't listen to us," Aziz told The Associated Press earlier. "Look at Bamiyan," he said, referring to the Taliban's destruction in the summer of 2001 of some of the world's most precious statues of Buddha. The Taliban blew up the statues, ignoring the roars of dissent, including from Pakistan.

Aziz refused to say whether Pakistan has a list of Taliban representatives prepared to enter into peace negotiations. The existence of such a list was announced Sunday by Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

At the start of Monday's conference, Aziz urged that participants avoid the media and work toward finding ways to get even the most intransigent Taliban to talk peace. He said the gathering needs "to define the overall direction of the reconciliation process" and define goals "with a view to creating a conducive environment for holding direct talks between the Afghan government and Taliban groups."

A breakaway Taliban group said Monday it was ready for talks. The faction, which emerged following the revelation last year that the Taliban leader and founder Mullah Mohammed Omar had died two years ago, is believed to be relatively small and its absence from the battlefield is unlikely to be a game changer.

Imtiaz Gul, whose Center for Research and Security Studies has delved deeply into the Afghan conflict and Pakistan's decades-old involvement, says Pakistan has significant leverage with the Taliban, led by Omar's replacement Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.

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