SAfrica seeks to reassure fans with security show

2010-05-18 09:49

Security forces paraded their World Cup arsenal through the streets

of Johannesburg, hoping to reassure fans the country will be safe during

soccer’s premier event.

The show of force yesterday came the same day an Iraqi official

told reporters in Baghdad that security forces had detained an al-Qaida militant

suspected of planning an attack targeting the June 11-July 11 World Cup.

South Africa’s high crime rate has been under intense scrutiny

since the country was awarded the right to host Africa’s first World Cup.

Police

have recruited and trained 44 000 officers for the event, and bought vehicles,

water cannons and other equipment, some of which were on display.

With teams and fans from around the world expected, the possibility

of terrorist violence also has been a concern.

Most of the 32 teams competing in the tournament have their

training bases in this area and the majority of tourists are expected to stay in

Johannesburg or nearby.

“South Africa will host the safest and most secure FIFA World Cup,”

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said.

“The force is ready. That is the message we shared with South

Africans over the past year and that we will be articulating to our 2010

visitors. Police will be everywhere, ready to respond to any eventuality.”

Mthethwa said his forces were ready for everything from petty

criminals to terrorists.

“South Africa will be hosting the whole world, and therefore we

will take no chances,” Mthethwa said.

Terrorist threat

Last month, Mthethwa said officials were aware of al-Qaida-linked

threats against the World Cup, and in particular against the United

States-England group game, posted on Jihadist forums.

In Iraq yesterday, Maj Gen Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for

Baghdad security services, told a news conference that Abdullah Azam Saleh

al-Qahtani, an officer in the Saudi army and al-Qaida militant, had been

detained on suspicion of planning a “terrorist act” in South Africa during the

World Cup.

Al-Moussawi said al-Qahtani entered Iraq in 2004 and is suspected

in several attacks in the country.

Vish Naidoo, a spokesman for South African police, told The

Associated Press that Iraqi security officials had not contacted their South

African counterparts about the suspected plot.

Naidoo said the report from Baghdad would not affect World Cup

security planning because terrorism had always been part of the

calculations.

South Africa’s national police chief Bheki Cele pledged yesterday

to leave “no oxygen” for criminals, and added the World Cup would leave a

security legacy.

“The resources have been put here, the training will be there to

benefit the people of South Africa,” Cele said.

Some 200 vehicles were on display yesterday, along with two

helicopters and special police squads demonstrating parachuting from aircraft

and rappelling down buildings.

Financial experts and construction workers paused to watch in a

part of Johannesburg where skyscrapers gleam and hovering cranes attest that

more glass-and-steel buildings will soon rise.

Banker Lina Chauke belied her sober suit, dancing on high heels and

waving a tiny South African flag as the parade passed.

She said she believed World Cup visitors would be safe, and that

South Africans would be safer because of investments in security made as a

result of the country hosting the tournament.

Police officers “won’t have an excuse. All of them, they’ll be

well-trained,” she said. “I’m very optimistic.”

Interpol secretary-general Ronald K Noble has praised South

Africa’s preparations for the World Cup, which have included seeking training

from other countries.

Interpol, the agency formed to help police around the world work

better together, is sending 200 experts, while each of the 31 visiting teams

will be sending up to eight officers to work with South African police.

Also yesterday, a Cabinet minister in neighboring Zimbabwe said

political protests and other demonstrations would be banned there during the

World Cup.

Giles Mutsekwa of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s

party, who shares responsibility for the police ministry with a politician from

President Robert Mugabe’s party, said the aim was to “rebrand” Zimbabwe and the

region as safe for World Cup visitors.

Mugabe’s party has long been accused of trampling on democratic

rights to stay in power.

Zweli Mnisi, spokesman for South Africa’s Police Minister Mthethwa,

said there were no plans to ban demonstrations in the host country.

“To protest and to march is a constitutional right of every South

African,” Mnisi said, though he did call for protests to be orderly.



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