Russian forces are on high alert over threats by Islamist
militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus to attack the
Winter games, which begin on Friday. Twin suicide bombings killed at
least 34 people in December in Volgograd, some 400 miles northeast
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, speaking on the eve of the
opening ceremony, told journalists in Sochi that Russian security
services were working with colleagues from Europe and North America.
"There is no reason to believe that the level of danger in Sochi is
greater than at any other point on the planet, be it Boston, London,
New York or Washington.
"We can guarantee the safety of people as well as any other
government hosting any mass event," he said, speaking through a
President Vladimir Putin, who launched a war to crush a rebellion in
nearby Chechnya in 1999, has staked his reputation on the Games,
which at around $50 billion will be the most expensive in Olympic
Islamist guerrillas seeking an independent Islamic state in Chechnya
and neighboring regions of southern Russia, have aimed threats at
the games, which they argue take place on land seized from Caucasus
tribes in the 19th century.
Despite a "ring of steel" around venues and some 37,000 security
personnel on alert, Russian forces fear a woman suspected of
planning a suicide bombing may have slipped through.
However, security officials believe the risk of an attack is far
greater elsewhere in Russia than in Sochi or the Caucasus mountain
President Barack Obama has said he believed Sochi was safe, but
behind the scenes there has been tension between Russian and U.S.
officials, including over concerns that the host nation might react
with excessive force in the case of an attack and endanger civilian
A senior U.S. security official said on Wednesday Washington had
issued a warning to airports and some airlines flying to Russia for
the Olympics to watch for toothpaste tubes that could hold
ingredients to make a bomb on a plane.
The official did not say why such a specific warning was being
issued now. Airlines and airports have been aware for several years
of the dangers of bombs being concocted on aircraft from liquids
smuggled aboard and have strictly limited the carriage of all
liquids and pastes by passengers.
LAW ON HOMOSEXUALITY
Putin, accused in the West of abusing the rights of minorities and
of critics, faces other hazards at the games.
His legacy could be tarnished by rows over anti-gay propaganda laws,
which athletes, rights groups and political leaders have condemned,
allegations of corruption, cost overruns and concerns over security.
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Organizers have also been scrambling to deal with teething problems,
including complaints about accommodation and an outcry over the fate
of stray dogs being rounded up in Sochi.
Russia's contentious "gay propaganda" law was again in the spotlight
on Thursday, when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
condemned discrimination and attacks on people based on their sexual
"Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century," he
said, addressing an International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in
Russia, hosting a Winter Games for the first time, has come under
mounting criticism since the government passed legislation last year
which critics say curtails rights of homosexuals and discriminates
"We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory
restrictions they face," Ban said.
Putin has defended the law as protecting minors and said homosexuals
will not face discriminated at the Sochi Olympics.
The president will hope the world's media now turns their lenses on
sporting exploits on the snow and ice, and there was early
qualification action in slopestyle, where medals are up for grabs
for the first time.
In Alpine skiing, U.S. veteran Bode Miller, at his fifth Winter
Games aged 36, set the fastest time in training.
"My confidence is never really my issue," he grinned afterwards.
"Unfortunately they don't give any medals for training because if
they did I'd be psyched today.
"But it certainly doesn't hurt. To come out here and ski hard, ski
well, first run is great," added the five times Olympic medalist,
who aims to become the oldest man to win an Alpine gold.
The women's downhill training was cut short due to concerns over a
jump close to the finish, a day after Shaun White's decision to pull
out of the slopestyle event for safety reasons.
"I felt like, 'You're welcome, I'll be your test dummy'", said
25-year-old American Laurenne Ross, one of only three of the 56
racers to descend the 2,713 meter long course. "I was definitely
(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Karolos Grohmann and
Timothy Heritage in Sochi, Philip O'Connor, Alan Baldwin and Martyn
Herman in Rosa Khutor and Mark Hosenball in Washington; writing by
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