POLICE FIRE RUBBER BULLETS AND TEAR GAS AT MEXICAN SOCCER FANS

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at rock-and-bottle-throwing Mexican soccer fans as celebrations of their team's progress to the second round of the World Cup turned violent, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

Huntington Park police Lt. Michael Gwaltney says some officers were injured, as well as a three-year-old girl hit in the head by a bottle, and about 12 people were arrested.

Half of the small city's 12 police cars were extensively damaged from the hail of rocks and bottles, Lieutenant Gwaltney says, several store windows were broken, and there was minor looting.

It was the second time that police in the Huntington Park suburb of Los Angeles had to deal with fans throwing bottles and rocks in celebration of Mexico's progress through the world's largest sporting event.

Two fans died in rioting in Mexico City.

The crowd of rowdy fans in Los Angeles, estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 strong, got out of hand at just before noon when Mexico played to a 1-1 tie with Italy, Gwaltney says.

About two hours later, the situation was out of control and police used ``pepper spray, rubber bullets, and sting balls'' to combat the unruly celebrators, Gwaltney says.

The so-called sting balls were thrown toward the mob by officers and exploded in the air, releasing small rubber projectiles about the size of the top of a man's little finger.

``They are non-lethal projectiles that get your attention. They sting when they hit,'' Gwaltney says.

He describes Huntington Park as 96 percent Hispanic and says some local Spanish-language radio stations ``encouraged people to go out and celebrate and block the streets. They created this, but we still look like the bad guys for spoiling the fun.

``We would like them to get the idea that we don't want to have to do this,'' he says. ``We would like them to go home. We would like to be able to go home.''

On Friday night, police were pelted with rocks and bottles by more than 3,000 Mexican fans after Mexico defeated Ireland 2-1.

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