HEILIGENDAMM, Germany, Mar 23: Germany said today it was taking seriously the possibility that right-wing radicals and neo-Nazis may try to disrupt this years soccer World Cup.
At a meeting of interior ministers on Germany's Baltic coast, Britain also gave the host nation strong backing to deal firmly with any hooligan ''provocations'' during the 32-nation tournament, which runs for a month from June 9.
German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble described as ''folklore'' an Italian newspaper report that neo-Nazis had met recently in the Austrian town of Braunau, Adolf Hitlers birthplace, to plan trouble during the tournament, one of the biggest events in sport.
But he added: ''In spite of that, we do take this issue very seriously. All security authorities in all European countries, especially those taking part in the World Cup, are watching very carefully and exchanging information.'' Britain's Home Secretary Charles Clarke told Reuters Television that reports of far-rightists preparing clashes ''may just be gossip or they may have substance. If such provocations exist ... we would deal with that very firmly.'' Germany is preparing a major security operation to protect the World Cup against the twin threats of terrorist attack and hooligan violence. One of the major challenges is likely to come from an estimated 100,000 England fans who are expected to travel to the country.
England fans have a reputation for violent behaviour abroad, including at previous European championships and the 1998 World Cup in France. Some also cultivate a particular rivalry with Germany, egged on by some British media which still hark back to the two world wars.
Clarke said the tournament ''should not be marred by some throwback to historic events'', and German authorities would have his full support in dealing rigorously with any troublemakers.
''It's always possible that there will be provocations from individuals or from political forces that want to use the World Cup as an opportunity to raise their particular message, normally of racism and fascism,'' he told a news conference.
''I, as home secretary of the UK, will strongly support the approach of the German government to upholding its law in this country in relation to any provocations of this kind which might arise.'' Britain has barred 3,200 known troublemakers from travelling to Germany during the tournament, and is sending four prosecutors and 44 uniformed police officers to assist the hosts in dealing with any disruptions.
Clarke said earlier this month he would back the German authorities in prosecuting any British fans who performed the stiff-armed Hitler salute, a criminal offence in Germany.