JOHANNESBURG --- The premier of South Africa's most populous province launched a robust defense of World Cup preparations Tuesday and said the country has "gone an extra mile" compared with other hosts.
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said her province, which includes host cities Johannesburg and Pretoria, was ready despite concerns over transportation strikes, a shortage of hotel rooms and high crime.
"In spite of negative reports emanating from known and unknown sources hell-bent on besmirching the image of our country," Mokonyane read from a statement, "I am confident that South Africa is ready to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup."
Gauteng has three World Cup stadiums: Soccer City and Ellis Park in Johannesburg and Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria. They will stage 21 of the 64 matches, including the opening game and the final.
Five-time champion Brazil, defending champion Italy and host South Africa will be in Gauteng province, and Johannesburg will handle a large number of fans.
"We are a country that is intolerant of crime, a country that is prepared to make sure that this World Cup becomes a legacy," Mokonyane said.
She said the provincial government was not concerned about the threat of transportation strikes during the monthlong tournament. Operators of taxi minibuses, which are used by many poorer South Africans, have threatened to strike in Johannesburg, which could seriously hamper an already fragile public transportation system.
"As I've said, we are living in a country of vibrant democracy," the premier said. "The concern we have is when protests are accompanied by violence and the destruction of property."
The spokesman for the South African National Taxi Council told The Associated Press in a phone interview shortly after Mokonyane's briefing that his organization would not put the World Cup ahead of its interests, and it was not satisfied with the government's response to issues raised in Johannesburg.
"We are very patriotic and we know what is at stake with World Cup 2010," Thabisho Molelekwa said. "But we cannot relegate our interests for the sake of the World Cup ... If the government fails to address the issues, the taxi industry will have no option but to embark on a nationwide strike."
The Gautrain, a new light-rail service linking Johannesburg, Pretoria and Johannesburg's international airport, won't be fully operational in time for the World Cup, adding to the transport pressures.
The pressure on accommodations in Johannesburg and Pretoria has been helped by disappointing foreign ticket sales, and Mokonyane insisted there are enough hotel rooms for visiting fans.
Turnout could be as low as 350,000, instead of the 450,000 expected, according to FIFA. Mokonyane said her province had also made plans for the arrival of fans without match tickets.