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Last Updated: Monday, 5 June 2006, 00:16 GMT 01:16 UK
Hosts tackle security risks head-on
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

Fake Polish fan being arrested by border guards
German and Polish authorities have held joint anti-hooligan exercises
Thousands of police, surveillance aircraft, and soldiers trained in anti-chemical warfare are all on duty in Germany this month, making sure the World Cup is remembered only as a sporting spectacle.

In the long run-up to the competition, security has been a big issue. Terrorism, hooligans, and neo-Nazis have all been identified as possible threats.

"Although we have no particular signals about possible threats to the World Cup, we want to do everything humanly possible to safeguard the matches," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said recently.

Mr Schaeuble has identified terrorism as the biggest threat to Germany generally, and other security officials have said the World Cup makes the country a good target for an attack.

"There's hardly a better target than the World Cup," said Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein recently. "Some matches are watched by billions of people around the world."

During the World Cup, everyone can feel safe wherever he goes in Germany. There must be no 'no-go areas'
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble

For this reason, Germany will have Awacs (Airborne Warning and Control System) planes controlling the skies.

Civilian planes will be forbidden from entering a 5.4 kilometre exclusion zone around football stadiums during matches - to prevent a 9/11-style attack.

There has been a tortured debate about the use of the army during the World Cup, and around 2,000 troops will be on stand-by to reinforce the police if needed. This includes units trained and equipped to deal with chemical attacks.

Robots will be used to check stadiums for bombs before matches.

Meanwhile, memories of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed in a gun battle after being taken hostage by the Palestinian "Black September" group, have been refreshed by the recent Steven Spielberg film Munich.

Big screen crowds

So the German authorities have earmarked some teams for especially tight security - including England, the United States, and Iran.

Berlin's Olympic Stadium
Stadium security will be a high priority

Germany has also announced it will lift the provisions of the Schengen agreement, and re-impose checks at its borders, for the duration of the tournament.

This is also a measure against hooliganism, another major threat. The German authorities have identified England's opening match against Paraguay, on Saturday June 10th, as a possible problem.

It is estimated that 100,000 England fans, many using cheap flights to come over for the day, will be in the city - but only 10,000 will have tickets, while most will watch the game on big screens.

And security officials are worried that if there is violence it will not be in the stadiums, but at these "public viewing areas".

"For the first time we'll have large public viewing areas pretty much in every bigger city in Germany," says Christian Sachs, spokesman for the Interior Ministry's World Cup security taskforce.

"In Berlin for example we'll have two or three, with a capacity of maybe 20,000 people each, where you'll be able to watch the matches on large screens - and that of course is a totally new security situation because you can't really check each individual coming into that area."

Far right threat

Another possible flashpoint is the Germany versus Poland match in Dortmund on 14 June.

On Polish hooligan chat sites, the game - plus a possible encounter with England after the group stage - has been identified as a chance for a fight.

There is a traditional rivalry between the fans, fuelled by history, and the German media have reported widely on a growing hooligan problem in Poland.

Polish and German hooligans even staged a pitched battle in a forest near Berlin in November last year, to gear up for the World Cup.

NPD rally in Rostock
Not Germany's desired image: a recent far-right rally in Rostock

The Iran versus Angola fixture in Leipzig on 21 June has also been picked out as a potential problem - but not for hooligans. The far-right NPD (National Democratic Party) has plans to hold a march in the city, in solidarity with the Iranians.

The party identifies with comments made by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, casting doubt on the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map.

The far-right is the latest threat to emerge to the World Cup, with warnings that it is planning to use the tournament for propaganda purposes.

The head of the police union, Konrad Freiburg, has called on the courts to ban NPD rallies during the competition - saying failure to do so would leave the police overstretched.

"The consequences would be violence and injuries," he says.

"But there would also be terrible pictures seen all over the world - in which 200 mad neo-Nazis are being protected by a ring of 1,000 policemen from a counter-demonstration. This would be shameful. It's not the image of Germany we want to present."

'Get out alive'

The debate comes against a background of rising neo-Nazi violence, with official figures showing a 23% increase in violent attacks in 2005.

"There are small and medium-sized towns in Brandenburg and elsewhere which I would advise a visitor of another skin colour to avoid," said Uwe-Karsten Heye, a former government spokesman, recently.

"It is possible he wouldn't get out alive."

Mr Heye was forced to retract his comments after a storm of complaints from other politicians, who said he they were "unhelpful" at a time when Germany was trying to make foreign guests feel welcome.

Social Democrat MP Sebastian Edathy, the son of an Indian immigrant, was one of the few politicians to support Mr Heye.

"I found it really surprising, since we've had this problem for years and now someone in a very strong way addressed that topic, that everybody says 'how can you say that?'

"I mean the scandal is not talking about the problem - the scandal would be if you couldn't speak the truth because it is unpleasant."

The statistics do also show that racial violence is far more common in the former communist East Germany, where hardly any of the games will be played.

Leipzig is the only eastern city hosting matches, although there will also be several in (former west) Berlin.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has voiced concern over neo-Nazi attacks while also insisting that it will not spoil the World Cup.

"During the World Cup, everyone can feel safe wherever he goes in Germany," he said.

"There must be no 'no-go areas'."

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