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29 May 2006
BERLIN - A knife attack that left 28 people injured has rekindled the debate on how well prepared German police are to protect the World Cup that kicks off in less than a fortnight.
A 16-year-old schoolboy was in police custody Sunday, charged with attempted murder after the frenzied assault on people streaming home from a fireworks display that marked the opening of Berlin's new central railway station.
Police said the youth had been in trouble before for assault and causing damage to property but were unable to determine a motive for the attack at the public gathering attended by around 500,000, among them Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In an added twist, one of his first victims was a carrier of the virus that causes AIDS, prompting fears that others who suffered stab wounds could get infected from tainted blood.
The teenager, identified only as Mike P., was said to be drunk when he was detained about one kilometre from the scene by private security guards, who then handed him over to police.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, called it a "shocking incident," but said it would not effect the overall security arrangements for the World Cup.
"There are always risks when you have large gatherings of people," he said. "Everything possible action to eliminate out such risks has been taken."
Schaeuble, who has overall responsibility for World Cup security, is due to present a new progress report on Wednesday with Franz Beckenbauer, president of the tournament's organizing committee.
Around 3 million foreign visitors are expected for the month-long competition that will see teams from 32 countries play 64 games in 12 cities, starting with Germany against Costa Rica in Munich on June 9. Berlin will host six games, including the final on July 9.
"The interior ministry and the federal states have taken every possible precaution to ensure security the like of which has never been seen before in Germany," Merkel said in a statement after the Berlin attack.
In addition to tens of thousands of police and private security guards, some 6,000 troops will be on standby for auxiliary roles in case of emergencies.
A National Cooperation and Information Centre has been set up in the capital to oversee the gigantic security operation being mounted during the World Cup, which is being held under the motto "A Time to Make Friends."
Operating 24 hours a day, it will gather reports from German police, Interpol and intelligence agencies about suspicious activities.
Both neo-Nazis and exiled Iranian opposition groups have threatened disruptive action during the tournament, but the main fears are attacks by Islamic militant groups and football hooligans.
Matches with some of the countries involved in the Iraq war - the US, England and Australia - are considered particularly vulnerable.
Germany has already said it will carry out random checks on borders with some of its neighbours that are usually open. British police will also be sending 30 officers to help pick out troublemakers among the 30,000 English fans expected - one third of them without tickets.
Police in Germany and Poland have been working together to deal with the relatively new threat of Polish hooligans and have conducted joint exercises simulating operations to pacify violent fans.
Officials say the biggest security threat won't be at the stadiums but in the cities where huge television screens have been erected.
"It's much easier for terrorists or neo-Nazis to target these areas because they are not as easy to monitor as the stadiums, said a police official dealing with security.
There are around 300 such public viewing areas erected around the country, where there will be random searches, but no airport style security.
"Fans must be searched for weapons at all outdoor gatherings and open air events where matches are televised," said Konrad Freiberg," head of the German Police Union. He also called on bars and beer stands not to serve drunken fans.
An Emnid survey of 1,000 people conducted before the Berlin attack showed 89 per cent of Germans were happy with the precautions taken to ensure security at the World Cup, the biggest event of the sporting year.
Subject: German News
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