Prime Minister Durão Barroso has played down an ‘advisory’ issued by the US State Department last week, which warned US citizens of the potential for terrorist attacks and hooliganism if they chose to visit Portugal during the upcoming Euro 2004 tournament.
“As far as I know, the US State Department has already issued 200 alerts this year, relating to possible risky situations,” Barroso explained. He was speaking at a joint news conference held with his visiting Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern. “The report also recognises that the Portuguese authorities are on alert and well-prepared to deal with any difficulty,” he added. “The truth is, we have already taken all the measures within our reach, even out of the ordinary measures, to reduce the possibility of a negative occurrence taking place during the Euro finals.” The Prime Minister gave the example of NATO’s deployment of AWACS surveillance planes during the three-week tournament to illustrate the “unusual” security steps being taken.
Be cautious and alert at all times
The US State Department advisory does not mention any specific threat to the event and said Portuguese authorities were taking steps to prevent possible terror strikes and fan rampages. But it advises US soccer fans planning to attend to be cautious and alert at all times.
The official document, which can be located on the web at www.travel.state.gov/portugal_announce.html, states that: “Portuguese authorities are alert to the possibility that large-scale public events could be the focus of terrorist acts.”
This summer will be one of Portugal’s busiest in terms of visitor numbers. The country is playing host to this year’s European football championship and there are already around 10 big music festivals planned during the summer months, including Rock in Rio-Lisboa, where superstars such as Britney Spears, Paul McCartney and many more will play, each attracting equally huge crowds.
Avoid areas of contact
In addition to the threat of terrorism, the US State Department is focusing on hooliganism as yet another danger to American citizens. “While the government of Portugal and tournament organisers are taking precautions to help prevent disturbances, US citizens are advised to avoid areas of contact between fans of opposing teams”, the document reads.
Speaking to The Resident a spokesperson from the United States Embassy in Lisbon told us: “This is not a warning – it is an announcement and I think it is important to stress there is a big difference.” He went on to explain: “Given the worldwide threat of random terrorist attacks, the State Department routinely advises its citizens, wherever they may be, to use caution and be alert to their surroundings. The announcement does not result from any specific terrorist threat at the Euro 2004 tournament, or to any other event.”
The spokesperson could not comment any further, but the advisory goes on to say that: “US citizens planning to attend Euro 2004 soccer matches should be aware that soccer-related hooliganism has occurred at past European soccer championships, including violent conflicts between fans and rioting or vandalism in stadium areas and city streets.”
The government has acknowledged this threat of hooliganism and Durão Barroso also confirmed that he has authorised full border controls to be reinstated from late May until early July to boost security during the football event, which kicks off on June 12. The move is expected to stop football fans entering the country via Spain. Interior Minister António Figueiredo Lopes put forward the idea in March – the same month that train bombings in neighbouring Spain killed nearly 200 people. “The reintroduction of border controls will focus particularly on people who have been identified as previous troublemakers,” he said last week. The border checks will cover the Rock in Rio festival, from 28 May, as well as the football championship.
“The success of Rock in Rio and Euro 2004 will depend on the planning and execution of a vast series of measures to safeguard the security of the participants and spectators,” said the minutes of the cabinet meeting. “Among these measures should be efficient and speedy control of travel documents at all frontiers.”
However, not everyone agrees with the additional security over the next month. “These concerns are excessive,” Lieutenant-General Leonel de Carvalho, who heads the committee in charge of Euro 2004 security, told daily newspaper Correio da Manhã in a reference to the US advisory, adding, “there was no cause for alarm”. Carvalho said the US ambassador to Portugal recently sent him a list of 30 nations posing a terrorist risk and Portugal was not on it.