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Police forced to take over world cup stadiums

Article Published: Tuesday 15 June 2010

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South African police averted a second round of potentially violent labor strife on Monday, enabling a World Cup match between defending champion Italy and Paraguay to start on schedule and proceed free of security hiccups.

A day after riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a strike by stadium workers in Durban, the national police rushed to prevent any recurrence in Cape Town less than three hours before kickoff.

The problem was resolved peacefully this time as authorities succeeded in dispersing a crowd of 500 workers who left their posts.

Still, the lack of a solution to the escalating wage dispute between the stewards and their contractor, Stallion Security Consortium, means that police have now assumed responsibility for security at World Cup stadiums in Cape Town and Durban.

"Although we have respect for workers' rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances," said Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the organizing committee.

Col. Billy Jones, a police spokesman for the Western Cape Region, said the Green Point Stadium's grounds were supposed to open up shortly after 5 p.m. local time (1500 GMT), but that 500 security officials congregated on the stadium's second-level terrace in protest.

Employers attempted to negotiate a settlement, but failed, while the queue of fans waiting outside security checkpoints got longer and longer.

"We had to take a decision quickly because we didn't have much time," Jones told The Associated Press.

"We told both sides to take their labor dispute out of the stadium."

Jones said the striking security staff heeded police demands to leave peacefully. About 1,500 trainees from the national police were called in to fill the shortfall in manpower at stadium entrances in what was a well-rehearsed contingency plan, he said.

The standoff caused about an hour of delays for arriving fans, Jones said.

But by 6:30 p.m. - two hours before kickoff - an AP reporter saw streams of spectators entering the stadium, and Jones said the gates were clear in time for everyone to be seated 15 minutes before kickoff.

News of the strike and the security problems even reached the Italy and Paraguay teams, who played to a 1-1 draw.

"I was told there was a strike," and that the national police had been called in, Italy coach Marcello Lippi said.

"For us we felt even more secure in that respect."

"Everything was smooth," Lippi added.

Security staff walked out after failed negotiations Monday with the organizing committee and Stallion.

Protesting workers in Durban said they had been turned away from that stadium on Monday after demanding payment under the terms of a wage agreement they said had been breached. The workers said their basic daily pay had been slashed without notice.

At least one protester was hurt in Durban on Sunday after police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse about 400 complaining of underpayment.

The violence occurred after Germany beat Australia 4-0 in the city's first World Cup match.

Both Durban and Cape Town are scheduled to host semifinals. The final is set for July 11 in Soccer City, Johannesburg.

Officials in cities hosting matches Tuesday said they expected no security problems.

In Rustenburg, where New Zealand and Slovakia kick off at 1:30 p.m. local time (1130 GMT), police already work alongside stewards who are expected to report for normal duty, North West Province deputy police commissioner William Mpembe said.

Port Elizabeth hosts the match between Ivory Coast and Portugal at 4 p.m. local time (1400 GMT), and police are handling most security work at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, local organizing committee media spokeswoman Michelle Brown said.



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