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Rioting sparks concern about London Olympics

- - Monday, August 22, 2011

LONDON — The rioting and looting that shocked Britain two weeks ago are raising questions about whether London is a secure location for next year's Summer Olympics.

One German lawmaker has suggested moving the games, and British athletes are grumbling about the damage that rioters have caused to London's image as one of Europe's safer cities.

"The image of London burning doesn't send a good message globally," said Eugene McLaughlin, a professor of criminology at City University London who has written extensively about crime and police-community relations.

"I think that's why politicians began to take it seriously, as the images relayed around the world. It is not good news if you are trying to sell Britain as a tourist or Olympic destination."

German lawmaker Manuel Hoeferlin said last week that he thought officials should consider moving the Olympics if rioting and looting resumed.

Three days after riots erupted on Aug. 6, Scotland Yard deployed 16,000 police to quell the unrest, which also had spread to other parts of Britain.

"If under normal circumstances, you need such a large number of police to control such violence, then how will it be at games time when you have so many visitors?" Mr. Hoeferlin said.

Meanwhile, on Chinese state-run television, a report suggested that the riots had seriously hurt London's image and raised concerns about safety measures for the Olympics.

Britain's athletes condemned the violence and warned that foreigners would not want to come to London for the games.

"These idiots rioting, makes me so mad. They aren't fighting for a cause, just got nothing better to do," Andy Turner, a hurdler, said on Twitter.

Four days of rioting and looting followed a peaceful demonstration in north London over the fatal police shooting of a local resident with reported links to criminal gangs.

Police are investigating the circumstances that led to the shooting of Mark Duggan, 29.

On Friday, police officials said they had arrested 1,802 people in connection with the rioting and looting in the capital that left five people dead.

Insurance companies expect to pay out in excess of $329 million in damages, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Chris Allison, assistant police commissioner and Scotland Yard's national Olympic security coordinator, promised a review of safety preparations for the games.

"Our planning for safety and security for the games is intelligence-led and based against a number of strategic risks, remaining flexible to enable a swift and efficient response to emerging threats," he said.

"Public disorder is one of those risks which we have already been planning against across the country."

The government has earmarked up to $988 million for police and other security at the games, with an additional $464 million available to the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games for security inside the venues.

The Home Office, Scotland Yard and the London Olympics Committee share responsibility for the security at the 16-day competition, scheduled to begin July 27.

The capital's police force has said 9,000 officers would be deployed in London each day.

Lyn Brown, a Labor Party member of Parliament from a London district where a large part of the Olympic Park is located, said she expects no violence during the games.

"The riots have unsettled everybody living in London. They unsettled me as a resident," she said.

"I am sure London will be suitable and prepared with the open arms and warmth of an east London welcome to receive people coming for the games."

The head of the British Olympic Association predicted that London would prove to be a model location as host to the games.

"A year from now, London will be the city where the world comes together in a spirit of friendship, peace, understanding and human excellence," said Andy Hunt, who also manages the British athletic team.

"London will be the city where we see the very best examples of humanity, and those images will be far different from what we have seen the past week."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) expressed confidence in London's ability to guarantee the safety of thousands of visiting athletes and spectators.

"Security at the Olympic Games is a top priority for the IOC," the committee said.

"It is, however, directly handled by the local authorities, as they know best what is appropriate and proportionate. We are confident they will do a good job in this domain."

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.