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Warsaw, Kyiv Seek To Calm Critics As Euro 2012 Kicks Off

Polish midfielder Ludovic Obraniak training with teammates ahead of the side's June 8 match against Greece.
Top officials in Poland and Ukraine are seeking to counter criticism of their countries as they prepare to cohost the 2012 UEFA European soccer championship kicking off June 8.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Thursday lunched with Poland's first black parliamentarian, Nigerian-born John Godson, in a gesture aimed at dismissing fears of racial intolerance during the monthlong tournament.

Both Poland and Ukraine had come under Western scrutiny following reports of racist violence at soccer events.

But French boxer Doudou Ngombu, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, said he had received a warm reception in Poland.

"I feel that the people here don't have any prejudice; they don't look at a person's race," said Ngombu, who was joining thousands of soccer fans singing and dancing at Warsaw's newly opened fan zone.

"And I think that [Poland] is a country which is good on that level, because I'm African and nobody is bothering me about anything and I feel well accepted."

Polish Sports Minister Joanna Mucha described the Euro 2012 tournament as the most difficult event that Poland had ever organized.

But she said infrastructure and security services -- including 12,000 police officers -- were in place and ready for "every scenario."

Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists are expected to flood into Poland during the June 8-July 1 tournament.

The number of visitors is expected to be somewhat lower in cohost Ukraine, where exorbitant hotel fees are believed to have discouraged many fans from making the trip.

Numerous European officials have called for a boycott of matches in Ukraine in protest over Tymoshenko's seven-year prison sentence on abuse of office charges that critics say are politically motivated.

The British government became the latest to add its voice to the chorus of complains about selective justice, saying on June 7 that no ministers will attend England's group matches in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who has faced a growing wave of bad publicity in the weeks leading up to the tournament, attempted to put a positive spin on events during a nationally televised address on the eve of the tournament debut.

Yanukovych praised the country's preparations for the tournament, including new high-speed trains linking the four host cities of Kyiv, Lviv, Donetsk, and Kharkiv.

He also called on Ukrainian citizens to show their hospitable side during what he called a "historic" event for the post-Soviet country.

"In the days ahead, the attention of the world will be focused on our country. I urge you to show full Ukrainian hospitality, sincerity and friendliness," Yanukovych said.

"We must meet our guests and participants in the tournament with dignity. Relations between Ukraine and the rest of the world will depend on how they remember us."

The June 8-July 1 tournament gets under way June 8 in Poland, with matches between Poland and Greece and Russia and the Czech Republic.

Netherlands-Denmark and Germany-Portugal matches will follow Saturday (June 9) in Ukraine.

A total of 16 teams will be competing in the tournament.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa
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