Australia urges World Cup fans to stay safe

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Australia Friday launched an unprecedented safety campaign for its citizens visiting South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, warning of a "high level of violent crime".

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the World Cup would be Australia's largest-ever consular exercise, with mobile embassies to be set up at all Socceroos games and updates via social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

"We are expecting over 10,000 Australians to visit South Africa during the tournament, with over 43,000 tickets sold to Australians," Smith said Friday.

A special foreign affairs travel bulletin for the World Cup urged Australians to exercise a high level of caution in South Africa.

"Muggings, rape, armed robbery and other forms of theft are common," it warned.

"Murders and carjackings involving foreign tourists have also been reported. Travellers have been robbed and assaulted after having their food or drinks spiked."

Smith urged Australians to register their travel plans with the department, subscribe to free email updates on security and take out comprehensive travel insurance.

Mobile embassies will be established at all Australia games and a 24-hour hotline was in operation, with updates also available at AUSConsular2010 on Twitter or the Australia High Commission South Africa Facebook site.

South Africa has hired tens of thousands of extra police for the tournament in a bid to counter its reputation as one of the world's most crime-ridden countries.

But they have been unable to prevent a series of robberies against World Cup visitors, with journalists from China, Portugal and Spain all falling victim to robberies.

The Greece and Colombia teams have also been hit by theft, with cash stolen from their hotel bases in the lead-up to the Cup, which kicks off Friday.

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