Soccer-Blatter backs Qatar and says criticism is unfair

* FIFA president defends Qatar

* Blatter slams unfair attacks (Adds quotes, details)

By Patrick Johnston

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 26 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter played the popularity card on Tuesday by defending under-fire 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar over what he called "unfair" European media attacks.

The issue of Qatar staging soccer's biggest showpiece has been a thorny issue for the 77-year-old Swiss who said last Wednesday that the labour rights situation in the Gulf state was "unacceptable" amid a wave of negative headlines.

International players' union FIFPro have asked Blatter to act for a French footballer, who says he is being prevented from leaving Qatar over a contract dispute with his club, while attempts to move the event from the traditional European summer months to winter have not been warmly received.

Blatter backed the Middle East state when he gave a speech to Asian Football Confederation members in Malaysia at the AFC awards on Tuesday.

"It is not fair when the international media, and especially European media, are taking up the focus of an Arab country ... by attacking, attacking, criticising this country. We are defending it," Blatter told delegates.

"We have taken a decision to play a World Cup in the Arabic world and we have taken the decision to play in Qatar and we will go and play this ... in 2022 in Qatar."

The comments drew applause from members and AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Al Khalifa agreed with Blatter's stance.

"I think what's been said is too much," the Bahraini told a small group of reporters.

"Qatar is part of Asia and we will support the World Cup in Asia. I'm sure when the time comes we will see the success the Qataris have brought to this event.

"I think what they have been doing so far by the look of the infrastructure and all of the facilities that are going to be built for this occasion, I'm sure it will be a successful World Cup."

Blatter has acknowledged that he did not vote in 2010 for Qatar to host the finals but the critics have still been quick to bring the complaints to his door as the head of world soccer's governing body.

On Friday, the FIFA chief fired back by saying France and Germany should be held to account over the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar because they exerted political pressure to award the finals to the Middle East state, adding financial interests were behind the decision.

There have been media reports recently of rife exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar's construction sector.

UEFA president Michel Platini, who said he voted for Qatar, is expected to challenge Blatter for the FIFA presidency in 2015, with support from powerful Middle East delegates key to claiming votes from the 47 members in Asia.

Frenchman Platini enjoys great popularity in the Middle East where Blatter has long been backed since coming to power in 1998.

"Football has also got now a political dimension," the Swiss said on Tuesday. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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