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Police teamwork puts paid to Cup security fears

Written by: Staff

BERLIN, July 7 (Reuters) International police cooperation on a scale not seen before will be the most important security legacy of a World Cup finals that exceeded even the most optimistic hopes of the German organisers.

Before the tournament, authorities had rehearsed for every possible scenario from terrorist bombs to hooligan clashes, and media reports fuelled fears of neo-Nazi provocations, attacks on dark-skinned foreigners and crushes at public viewing areas.

In fact, with just two games left, the World Cup has gone off with barely a hitch, in a carnival atmosphere that surprised and delighted not just foreign visitors but also many Germans.

More than 400 fans were arrested in Dortmund when Germany played Poland there, and more than 500 England fans were detained when they played Ecuador in Stuttgart, but police largely attributed the excesses to too much beer and sun.

''Heavy precautions, comprehensive prevention, but also a relaxed, festive, cheerful mood,'' was the response of Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble when asked for the secret behind the host nation's security preparations.

Behind the scenes, foreign officers worked alongside German colleagues at the federal police headquarters and a special anti-hooligan unit, while Interpol and Europol sent experts to a round-the-clock intelligence centre at the interior ministry.

But the real innovation was the deployment of some 320 uniformed police from 13 European countries to keep an eye on their own travelling fans, mainly at airports and stations.

GOOD EXPERIMENT The experiment looks likely to be repeated at the 2008 European championship, to be hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

''You need the international cooperation and you need (police) reserves you can send in if the going gets tough, those are the two big lessons,'' said Swiss policeman Walter Just.

''It definitely paid off, and I'm certain that those responsible in Austria and Switzerland will be thinking about how to implement something similar,'' Austrian police official Bernhard Gaber told Reuters.

He was also impressed by policing on the ''fan miles'', where vast throngs of people watched live matches on giant screens across Germany. Up to 900,000 packed the avenue leading to Berlin's Brandenburg Gate for the Germany-Italy semi-final.

Superintendant Roger Evans of London's Scotland Yard praised local police for their handling of an estimated 250,000 England fans who followed their team to Germany, given their record of causing trouble in the past.

''We asked them to police the English fans on their behaviour and not their reputation, and that has manifestly been the case.

The German police, wherever they've dealt with English fans, have been very tolerant, very restrained,'' he said.

While mindful of a general terrorist threat, the Germans were able to keep security less intrusive than at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, one year after the Sept. 11 attacks, or the 2004 Olympics in Greece.

Interior minister Schaeuble said he could not put a figure on overall security costs because they are shared between the central government and the 16 federal states, each of which is responsible for its own police force.

But he told reporters: ''The overwhelming majority of Germans would agree when I say that the return, in terms of fun and friendship, is worth a lot more than the security costs.'' REUTERS AY RK1758

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