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FIFA condemned for arrests

JOHANNESBURG, June 17- World Cup organisers faced protests at home and abroad Wednesday as the Netherlands condemned "absurd" arrests over a marketing stunt and thousands of South Africans protested the tournament bill.While the national side took to the field, South African authorities were accused of scoring an own goal by charging two Dutch women with ambush marketing over a stunt featuring dozens of fans wearing orange mini-dresses.

Campaigners also took on the government over how it could spend hundreds of millions of dollars on staging the world’s most popular sporting event when some 40 percent of the population live on less than two dollars a day.

The Dutch government’s ire was provoked by the decision to charge two of its nationals over the stunt at a match on Monday, although a group of South Africans arrested at the same time were told they would not face charges.

The group were all wearing bright orange dresses sold with packs of Bavaria beer in the Netherlands in defiance of FIFA commercial regulations.

While FIFA said it did not plan to press charges against the South African women recruited for the stunt, charges were filed against the two Dutch women it says organised the campaign.

"It is absurd that the two women have a jail term hanging over their heads for wearing orange dresses in a football stadium," Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said.

"If South Africa or FIFA wants to take a company to task for an illegal marketing action, they should start judicial procedures against the company and not against ordinary citizens walking around in orange dresses."

Bavaria, the brewery behind the stunt, also defended the two women charged.

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"There is no way FIFA can hold these ladies responsible for having attended a match in the colours of the Netherlands," said Bavaria in a statement.

"If FIFA has a problem with our business, we would ask them to contact us directly, and not to take action against innocent people wearing our orange dresses, " it added.

The company said it was providing legal aid and accommodation to the two women.

In a statement, FIFA accused the organisers of the stunt of duping locals to take part, initially disguising them as Danish fans by covering up their orange dresses and then using decoys to divert the attention of officials.

FIFA said it was "appalled" that a company would expose "innocent people … to possible criminal charges and knowingly create unnecessary concerns for security staff and stewards, whose main focus should be safety measures".

Meanwhile the national Bafana Bafana team faced pressure on the pitch as it carried the country’s hopes to beat Uruguay as fans filled the 50,000 seater Loftus Versveld stadium in the capital Pretoria.

The stadium was transformed into a sea of green and yellow, South African flags flying high with fans blowing the contentious vuvuzela trumpet but a small patch of blue from Uruguay supporters could be spotted.

The South African government has frequently faced accusations of kowtowing towards FIFA, shelling out 33 billion rand (4.3 billion dollars, 3.5 billion euros) on stadium and infrastructure projects for the World Cup.

At a march in Durban, some 3,000 campaigners vented their anger both over the cost of the tournament but also over the sacking of security staff.

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"Get out FIFA mafia!" chanted the crowds in a Durban park, their ranks swelled by stewards who were involved in clashes with riot police on Monday after wage protests.

Monday’s demonstrations triggered walkouts by other stewards which have led South Africa’s police to take control at the World Cup stadiums in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Durban.

"If we have money for stadiums, we should not have any homeless people or people having to live in shacks," organiser Allan Murphy said.

FIFA, which has made record amounts of money from the first World Cup to be held in Africa, has insisted the dispute over the stewards’ wages is not its responsibility, having sub-contracted the work.

The walkouts by the stewards, a wildcat strike by bus drivers and ranks of empty seats have combined to take the gloss off a largely triumphant opening to the tournament last week.

Fears of fan violence have so far not materialised, but authorities announced that 17 suspected Argentinian hooligans would be deported after a raid on school premises in Pretoria where they had been staying.

Another 11 Argentinian fans have already been deported for being known instigators of football violence after the Buenos Aires government gave South Africa a list of 800 known hooligans blacklisted from attending matches.

With all 32 teams now having played their first matches, organisers said around 110,000 foreign visitors had come to South Africa for the opening days.

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