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World Cup: Officials Strive To Prevent Terrorism, Racist Attacks

German police check the seats prior to the June 9 opening match in Munich (epa) The streets of Germany’s main cities are crammed with football fans from around the world. They’re drinking beer, dancing, singing, and celebrating the arrival of the quadrennial FIFA World Cup, the world’s most popular sports event. But behind the scenes, German and international security officials are hard at work in a bid to keep the month-long event safe.

MUNICH, Germany; June 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- At nearly 2 meters and 95 kilograms, American defender Oguchi Onyewu is one of the biggest, strongest players set to take part in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Nevertheless, the towering American is not without worries.

As a black member of the U.S. national football team, Onyewu finds himself at the center of the two main security concerns at the World Cup: racist violence and Islamist terror.

“You know, we got police guards looking out for snipers outside the hotel, barricades blocking the hotel -- everything," Onyewu says. "A lot of security, a lot of security around us.”

In April, the 24-year-old Onyewu was punched by a Belgian fan. The American of Nigerian heritage, who plays club ball for Standard Liege in Belgium, had dismissively gestured toward a group of supporters who were trying to insult him by making monkey noises.

Fears Of Racist Violence

World Cup organizers and security officials are now hard at work to ensure that similar acts of violent racism do not stain the event, whose motto is “A Time To Make Friends.”

"Our task is to fulfill the role of the criminal police office during the World Cup in cooperation with German security agencies," says Otmar Soukup, chief executive of Germany's Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), or criminal police. "Our task will be to collect all relevant data connected to the World Cup, analyze it and to put it together as a whole."

Soukup this week opened the World Cup security coordination center in Meckenheim near Bonn. Police officers from the other 31 participating soccer nations will be working there with their German colleagues for the duration of the tournament.

On The Watch For Hooligans

Security officials are also hard at work to prevent violence by foreign hooligans, the most feared of whom are expected to be English and Polish.

German mounted police on duty outside the Munich stadium where the open match of the 2006 World Cup was played (epa)

England has sent 30 undercover officers and 49 in uniform to assist. They’re focused on handling English fans arriving in Frankfurt for their country's opening World Cup game against Paraguay on June 10.

However, terrorism remains the chief concern, as Munich remembers from the last time it hosted a major sporting event. Palestinian militants killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in the Bavarian capital.

"Our focus will obviously also be on Islamic terrorism and the problem of xenophobia, depending on the security situation in Germany and the world," Soukup says. "But let me make one thing clear: there are currently no concrete threats regarding Islamic terrorism."

But the racist threats are concrete.

FIFA, football’s world governing body, has launched an antiracism campaign to run through the event that includes “Say No To Racism” banners, television commercials, and speeches by players.

Rallies Banned

It’s a timely initiative. According to a report last month by the German Interior Ministry, racist attacks increased by 28 percent in Germany in 2005.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has warned “there is a high potential for violence among skinheads.”

Ghana’s police chief, Alphonse Adu-Amankaw, is one of the many foreign officers working at the police coordination center. He and colleagues will be paying close attention to games involving teams from Africa and Asia -- which are high-risk target for racist violence.

"I'm here to work with the BKA and the various colleagues from the other countries to ensure that we have a safe and peaceful World Cup," Adu-Amankaw says. "We will do this by exchanging information and by mutually communicating together. We are grateful for this opportunity and I will be here until Ghana is the winner of this World Cup -- or until we bow out at whichever stage."

On June 8, German police banned marches planned by far-right extremists for the World Cup aimed at showing support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has cast doubt on the Holocaust and called for Israel to be eliminated or moved out of the Middle East.

Members of the National Democratic Party of Germany had planned rallies in Frankfurt and Gelsenkirchen, which are both hosting World Cup matches, including the Iran-Portugal game. Another rally in Herne, close to Gelsenkirchen, was also banned.

NATO has put 24 surveillance planes on standby to help protect the World Cup against a terrorist attack from the skies.