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New Clash in World Cup Labor Dispute

Police stun grenades and rubber bullets at striking World Cup workers during a protest in Cape Town.

Wendell Roelf

Up in arms: World Cup workers protesting in Durban on Wednesday in one of a series of protests across South Africa this week. (Photo: AP)

CAPE TOWN, South Africa
- Police fired rubber bullets and a stun grenade on Thursday
to disperse protesting workers in the latest episode of a dispute that
has forced police to take over World Cup stadium security and has
embarrassed organisers.

A police spokesman said seven guards were arrested in the illegal protest outside their employer's offices in Cape Town.

The dispute with local security
firm Stallion comes after similar problems during last year's
Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal for this tournament.

Police said they had permanently
taken over security at four venues; the showpiece Soccer City stadium
and Ellis Park in Johannesburg, and the newly-built arenas in Cape Town
and Durban. They were already guarding the coastal stadium in Port

The move, which requires at
least 4,000 police officers, follows a wage dispute between stewards,
assigned to perform security inside the stadiums by the local
organising committee, and Stallion Security.

The tournament's local
organising chief Danny Jordaan has expressed anger at the stewards,
many of whom have been paid off for going on strike, but critics say
organisers should have seen the dispute coming to avoid the diversion
of a 41,000-strong police contingent deployed to protect teams and fans
everywhere else.

Security is a major concern at
this World Cup because of South Africa's frighteningly high rates of
violent crime -- some of the worst outside a war zone.

Police had taken over security
in Port Elizabeth before the tournament began because of another wage
dispute between stewards and their employers.

Local media reports last year
said Stallion pulled out at the last minute from a contract to protect
the Confederations Cup -- a dress rehearsal for the World Cup -- due to
a dispute with local organisers over salaries to be paid to guards.

That pullout caused police to be
called in to guard some stadiums because smaller security companies
deployed at short notice lacked enough personnel and training.

Police chief Bheki Cele has said
the use of his force to guard stadiums will not weaken its other duties
in protecting the World Cup.

The local organising committee
has declined to comment in detail on the dispute except to say it is an
internal issue between the stewards and Stallion. The company says it
is consulting lawyers.

Police also clashed with protesting stewards early on Monday, firing rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse them.

Meanwhile, in the latest
evidence of South Africa's no-tolerance approach to crime during the
World Cup, police said a Nigerian arrested on Sunday had been sentenced
to three years jail for holding 30 tournament tickets illegally.

He was tried in one of the special high-speed courts set up for the tournament.

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