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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK

World: Europe

Germans on trial for World Cup attack

Policeman Daniel Nivel can still barely speak

Four Germans have gone on trial, charged with a brutal attack on a French policeman in Lens during last year's World Cup in France.

Caroline Wyatt: "This attack stood out for its sheer savagery"
The four men, aged between 23 and 31, are charged with attempted murder, grievous bodily harm and breach of the peace.

The trial, taking place in Essen, Germany, opened amid tight police security. It is expected to last several weeks.

Daniel Nivel can still barely speak and remembers nothing of that day's events, though his wife says he may try to attend the trial at a later stage.

One of the defendants, 24-year-old Tobias Reifschlaeger admitted kicking the policeman twice and told the court he felt terrible about what had happened and hoped he would soon recover.

"I'm ashamed to have taken part in something like that," the office manager told the court, saying he had drunk about 10 pints of beer.

Two other defendants also expressed their regrets and promised to testify fully.

However, the youngest defendant, a 23-year-old man from Berlin, has asserted his right to remain silent.

'Disgrace for Germany'

A lengthy list of charges was read out, detailing the savage attack on Daniel Nivel.

He was kicked and beaten about the head with an iron bar by four rioting football fans last June, after a match between Germany and Yugoslavia.

The attack was so violent that he was close to death when his colleagues found him lying on a side street.

[ image: Fans went on the rampage]
Fans went on the rampage
The 44-year-old father of two was left in a coma for several weeks.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor said the four men had acted out of a lust for cruelty and had brutally beaten the policeman, Daniel Nivel, as he lay defenceless on the ground.

The prosecution is expected to call up to 40 witnesses, although it is not yet clear whether the victim of the attack will be among them.

Caroline Wyatt in Berlin: The four could face up to 15 years in prison
BBC Berlin Correspondent Caroline Wyatt says Germany was bitterly shamed by the violence.

The then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl called it a "disgrace for Germany", and offered to withdraw from the World Cup.

The attack was considered the most brutal incident in numerous outbreaks of violence during the tournament.

Riots involved hundreds

The competition also saw three days of rioting in Marseille involving English hooligans and local youths.

Hundreds of people were arrested or deported during the matches.

German prosecutors say they are determined to get the maximum possible sentence, and are due to call some 40 witnesses.

The accused are Andre Zawacki, 28, and Frank Renger, 31, both from the western city of Gelsenkirchen; Tobias Arno Reifschlaeger, 24, of Hamburg; and Christopher Rauch, 23, of Erkner, near Berlin.

Another German suspect, 28-year-old Markus Warnecke, was arrested in France and faces trial there.

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