Anti-Kremlin protesters invade pitch during World Cup final

Stewards chase pitch invaders during the World Cup final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. Carl Recine, Reuters

MOSCOW,  (Reuters) – The World Cup final between France and Croatia yesterday was briefly interrupted when four intruders affiliated to anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot ran onto the pitch before being hauled off by stewards.

The pitch invaders, who were dressed in police-style outfits, were later detained by police, one of them told Reuters by telephone from a police station near Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium, venue for the match.

Police said they were investigating the four on suspicion of violating rules for spectating at a sporting event as well as for illegally wearing police uniforms, the Interfax news agency reported.

The former infraction carries a maximum fine of up to 10,000 roubles ($159.92) or 160 hours’ community service with a ban on attending sports events of up to three years. Wearing a police uniform illegally carries a fine of 1,000 to 1,500 roubles.

The pitch invasion was the first significant security lapse in the five-week tournament that has won hosts Russia widespread praise for organisation and efficiency.

In a post on its Facebook page, the group said its action was intended to draw attention to what it said were human rights abuses in Russia.

Three of Pussy Riot’s original members were jailed in 2012 for staging a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin in a church and the group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin direct action.

In the second half of Sunday’s match, the three people wearing white shirts with police-style epaulettes, black trousers and police hats ran out on the pitch from the area behind the French goal. A fourth person tried to run onto the pitch but was tackled on the sidelines.

The three ran about 50 metres, dispersing in different directions, before stewards wearing high-visibility jackets tackled them to the ground and dragged them off the pitch.

One photograph on social media showed one of the pitch invaders, a woman with blonde hair tucked under a police cap, performing a high-five with France player Kylian Mbappe before being caught.

The match, watched from the stands by Putin and the French and Croatian presidents, was halted, but resumed about 25 seconds later. A witness at the stadium said he had seen police escorting the pitch invaders out of the stadium grounds.

Pussy Riot member Olga Kurachyova told Reuters she was one of the pitch invaders and was being held at Luzhniki police station. She said she could not speak further because police were trying to take her mobile phone away from her.

Croatian defender Dejan Lovren, who pushed the male intruder aside on the pitch, told reporters the incident had interrupted the game at an important moment for his team.

“We’d been playing good football and then some interruption came,” he said. “I just lost my head and I grabbed the guy and I wished I could throw him away from the stadium.”

LIST OF DEMANDS

In its Facebook post, Pussy Riot complained of rights abuses in Russia. It alluded to Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker jailed for 20 years in 2015 for setting fire to two offices in Crimea, including one belonging to Russia’s ruling party, after Moscow annexed the region from Ukraine.

Pussy Riot said its demands included freeing political prisoners in Russia, freedom of speech on the internet, freedom to protest, and allowing political competition.

The group shared a video on social media recorded before the incident featuring three female activists, at least two of whom were among those detained. They wore police uniforms and one of them wore a pink balaclava.

“The World Cup has shown wonderfully what the police can be like in Russia, but what will happen afterwards?” one of the activists asked in the video, an apparent allusion to lenient policing noted by Russians during the tournament.

A separate video posted on social media appeared to show the moments after the pitch invaders had been detained.

Two of them, a man and a woman, could be seen standing in a room, dressed in dishevelled police uniforms, while a voice off camera demanded handcuffs be brought.

“Do you know that Russia will pay for this to FIFA through sanctions?” the off-camera voice said, in an angry tone. “You wanted to shit on Russia, didn’t you?”

“We are for Russia,” the male detainee replied.

“Sometimes I regret that it’s not 1937,” the person off- camera in the video said. That year was the height of political repressions carried out by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

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