London riots raise Olympic fears

2011-08-09 11:19

Berlin – “In less than one year we welcome the world to London, and right now the world doesn’t want to come,” marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe tweeted last night.

While no Olympic facilities have yet been targeted in three nights of riots in the English capital, the incidents have raised security concerns and are overshadowing the run-up to the Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and London organising committee LOCOG swiftly expressed their faith that the Games will be safe for athletes, officials and visitors.

“Security is the top priority for the IOC but is it not our direct responsibility – that is something for the authorities in London in whom we have complete confidence,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told the German Press Agency dpa.

LOCOG spokesperson Joanna Manning-Cooper told dpa: “A lot of detailed work has taken place regarding security plans for the Games and we will continue to review them together with the Met Police and the Home Office over the coming year.”

While England’s friendly with the Netherlands and other football matches in London were called off as an immediate measure today, the Games are still 353 days away, and civil unrest in the run-up is nothing new in Olympic history.

In 1968, some 250 people reportedly died when the Mexican government forces opened fire on student demonstrators in Mexico City 10 days before the opening ceremony there.

In the spring of 2008, there was an outcry when China quashed unrest in Tibet and the human rights issue was constantly on the agenda around the Beijing Games.

There were no incidents during the Games, although local protesters made attempts to disturb torch relays ahead of the Turin Winter Games in 2006 and Beijing 2008.

This prompted the IOC to abandon the international routes for the torches.

Olympic security has been a top issue ever since 17 people died when a Palestinian commando attacked the Israeli team at the Munich 1972 Games and a rescue operation failed.

London organisers say that London has a long history of being subject to threats, ranging from the IRA to lone terrorists, and that they are prepared for any scenario in a £600-million (R7.1-billion) security concept. This concept, they also insist, will not spoil the expected party atmosphere in town.

“We are very good at policing in a friendly and a discrete way,” said organising committee chief Sebastian Coe.

The current riots, mainly carried out by youths, were apparently sparked by the death of a 29-year-old alleged drug criminal in Tottenham, in a police sting operation last week.

They spread to other cities yesterday and more than 300 people have been arrested. Damage in Tottenham alone amounts to more than £6 million.

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