By Graeme Hosken

Security forces have been put on full alert for the controversial World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) and "will be ready for anything".

This was disclosed at a security press briefing in Durban on Wednesday, three weeks ahead of the conference, which will bring 15 000 people to the city centre.

The high security alert comes in the wake of threats of mass action by international and national non-governmental organisations, who will descend on the city a week before the start of the conference.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and its alliance partners announced recently that they would roll out a mass action campaign through the city on the eve of the conference to ensure relevant issues remain on the agenda.

These include the unresolved issue of whether the Middle East, and in particular Zionism, should be part of the agenda.

African and Arab nations have demanded that the issue of the Middle East conflict should feature prominently with calls to equate Zionism to racism.

This has triggered angry reactions from the United States and its allies.

However, briefing journalists on the security arrangements for the conference, Provincial Police Commissioner Moses Khanyile and General Mbulelo Tshiki, Commander of the Regional Joint Task Force East, said their forces were ready for anything.

The high security alert comes amid fears that violent incidents, which rocked recent trade conferences in Europe and Canada earlier this year, could be repeated in Durban.

"Like previously, it can be expected that we will be called upon to deal with issues such as bomb threats, traffic congestion, illegal gatherings and marches," said Khanyile.

He was, however, not prepared to reveal the strength of the security force personnel which would be thrown around the city centre to safeguard the conference and its delegates.

He said combined intelligence units of the SAPS, SANDF and the National Intelligence Agency, would be deployed to identify early threats and to activate early warning of potential threats.

"The plan, which consists of three phases, will stretch across the policing areas of Durban North, Durban South, Midlands and Umzimkhulu with security forces guarding conference participants who will be staying in these areas.

"Certain city streets will be cordoned off and we will expect people coming into the city to stay off these streets," said Khanyile.

He said while the country's constitution guaranteed the right to protest, the methods of protesting were limited by the Gatherings Act.

The Act stipulates permission must be obtained from the local authority in advance of such gatherings, assemblies or demonstrations taking place.