Kiev prepares to host Euro 2012 final
KIEV: The Ukrainian capital Kiev was on Sunday preparing to host the Euro 2012 final, with a number of heads of state and prime ministers expected, despite a political boycott announced by several European countries.
The countdown to the festivities began on Saturday night with a free concert given by British singer-songwriter Elton John and the supergroup Queen to highlight the AIDS epidemic in Ukraine, which is worst affected by the condition in Europe.
On Sunday, a brief closing ceremony will take place in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium before the final kicks off between holders Spain and Italy at 1845 GMT.
More than 7,300 police and the Ukrainian secret service will be out in force to keep order and in a show of strength against hooligans “likely to organise fights and other problems”, a spokesman said.
A number of high-profile figures are expected at the match, among them the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Prince Felipe, who have boycotted the country’s two previous matches in Ukraine over the treatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Rajoy has said that the boycott was a “sufficiently clear political signal”to Kiev and that he had already indicated his attendance if the national team made the final.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, the Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will also be in the stands.
The European Union has been calling on Ukraine to free Tymoshenko, who is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of power during her time as prime minister and has complained of mistreatment.
The EU has called her imprisonment “selective justice” in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this year.
A number of European governments, notably France, Britain and Germany, refused to send any government representatives to their countries’ matches in Ukraine in a sign of protest.
From outside the EU, several presidents from ex-Soviet states were heading to Kiev, notably Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili, according to the Interfax news agency.
The Belarussian embassy in Kiev also said that President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by the United States over alleged restraints on civil liberties, will also be present.
A number of Ukrainian human rights organisations have called on European leaders to pressure President Viktor Yanukovych to withdraw Lukashenko’s invitation and boycott the final.
Preparations for Euro 2012 were peppered with scandals, from delays in building work to sky-high accommodation prices but the three-week championships have passed off without incident in Ukraine.
The president of European football’s governing body UEFA, Michel Platini, on Saturday told a news conference in Kiev that co-hosts Poland and Ukraine had organised an “exceptional tournament” that would live on in memories.
“The overwhelming feeling I have today is pride. Pride for Poland and Ukraine, so often decried but who proved they were up to the task by putting on such a great tournament,” he said.
“And pride for the people of Poland and Ukraine, who were such wonderful hosts.”.
The Ukrainian authorities are expecting some 500,000 foreigners for the final and see the event as the ultimate test.
“We’ve got to keep it up for three days” before saying that everything has gone well, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Boris Kolesnikov told AFP.