South Africa ready to host safe World Cup

CAPE TOWN - South Africa has prepared for every security threat going into next year's World Cup, including chemical and nuclear scares, the country's police minister said on Thursday.

South Africa, which has one of the world's highest murder rates outside a war zone, will increase police manpower ahead of the month-long tournament as it battles violent crime that has hurt its international image.

The announcement comes as both officials and fans have expressed concerns at the high level of crime in South Africa.

"Now, on the eve of the FIFA 2010 final draw and with just 188 days until kick-off, we are fully convinced that the security forces ... are 100 percent prepared to efficiently secure these events and all parallel activities," Nathi Mthethwa, the Minister of Police, told a press briefing.

The final draw, involving the 32 teams that qualified for Africa's first hosting of the world's most watched sporting event, takes place on Friday evening and will see 1,000 police deployed to protect dignitaries. Football stars such as David Beckham are expected to attend.

Mthethwa said police would be based in hotels to protect dignitaries, with intelligence officials from the military and secret service units, augmented by international experts, providing a comprehensive security clampdown.

"After the final draw we can complete tactical issues with regard to the security plan, especially in terms of close protection for the teams," he said.

South Africa has moved to tackle violent crime ahead of next year's World Cup, which government officials have said would be safe for an estimated 450,000 foreign tourists expected to attend the month-long tournament starting in June 2010.

In September, Mthethwa released the annual crime statistics - from April 2008 to March 2009 - which showed a decline in the murder rate but worrying increases in house and business robberies.

National police commissioner Bheki Cele, appointed by President Jacob Zuma for his zero tolerance approach to crime, said on Thursday dedicated courts would be opened for the 2010 tournament to punish criminals quickly.

"We have to be harsh... There will be special courts for 2010, so that we arrest you now and deal with you... We will be hard with them," Cele told the media briefing.