Security enhanced for olympic torch relay in London

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London, Mar 21 (UNI) Amid fear that the UK capital will be the first flashpoint for Free Tibet demonstrations along the Olympic torch's 130-day global tour, unprecedented security measures were being put in place to ensure that the event passes off peacefully.

As the Olympic torch is set to arrive here next month, a massive security operation is under way to protect the torch from anti-China protesters.

A security adviser to the Chinese Government has warned that London's chances of staging its own torch tour in the run-up to 2012 games could be jeopardised if Beijing's relay is hijacked by politics.

About 2,000 officers from the Metropolitan Police, including air and marine support and mounted police will be mobilised for the torch relay on April 6. The wage bill is estimated at one million pound, according to media reports.

The Olympic flame will be carried 85,000 miles by 21,880 torch-bearers through 135 cities. The London section will be among the most high-profile. The eight-hour procession from Wembley Stadium to the O2 centre on the Greenwich Peninsula will close large parts of the capital to traffic and is expected to draw big crowds along the 31-mile route.

Human rights activists highlighting the issues of Tibet, Myanmar and Darfur are planning a series of demonstrations along the route.

Some parts will be fenced off but others will be open to the public, with celebrations planned.

If the relay is seriously disrupted here or if protests turn violent, it could mean the global tour being curtailed.

The flame will pass Nelson's Column, Downing Street and St Paul's Cathedral. Sir Steve Redgrave, Vanessa Mae, Kevin Pietersen and Sir Trevor McDonald will be among the 80 torch-bearers.

Neil Fergus, chief executive of Intelligent Risks, an Australian company that is advising Beijing, said: ''It is reprehensible that anyone should use the torch for political ends. It worries me that in three to four years the relay will be discontinued because of this nonsense.'' Protesters are unlikely to heed his appeal. Sources predict ''sizeable'' protests on April 6, a Sunday.

The event will be the first test of British policing for the 2012 London Games, but a former senior officer yesterday questioned whether there would be enough resources to cope.

Lord Dear, a former Inspector of Constabulary, said: ''I harbour serious doubts about whether we could cope. We have four years in which to do something about it not only about lower-volume crimes issues but with the much more important and obvious challenges that 2012 could bring.'' UNI XC YA KN1724

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