Olympics marred by security concerns and attacks
Games have strong protest dimension as country is in midst of political scandal
Activists protest against suspended president Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo the week before the Olympic Games began. Photograph: Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty
The opening phase of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro has been marred by security concerns and a spike in violence that has led to prolonged queues for spectators.
Portugal’s education minister was robbed at knifepoint on Saturday at the Olympic lake where rowing events are taking place, but escaped unharmed.
Tiago Brandao Rodrigues and an aide were walking near the event area when they were assaulted. The assailant was arrested a few blocks away on Ipanema beach. It was the latest incident in a series of robberies that have hit visitors since the Olympics opened on Friday.
Rio has dramatically lowered its crime levels in recent years, but there has been a spike in murders and assaults in recent months. Authorities said that 85,000 soldiers and police patrolling streets for the Games – double the number of security officials in place during the London Games in 2012 – would keep Rio safe. Police used stun grenades and tear gas to clear protesters in the path of the Olympic torch in a poor suburb of Rio on Wednesday.
Mr Seixas, who was accompanied by two undercover police, was confronted by would-be robbers outside Maracana stadium. One of the five robbers, who were armed with knives, was shot and killed by one of the undercover officers.
Meanwhile, authorities are still trying to determine how a rifle round ripped through the media tent at the venue hosting equestrian events and landed on the floor near a journalist.
Sports fans faced long queues before entering some of the Olympic sports venues in Rio de Janeiro yesterday after organisers admitted on Saturday they needed to shorten waiting times at security checks.
On Saturday the focus of the problem was at the main venue the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca which organisers blamed on a lack of co-ordination between police and the private firm manning the security checks at the entrance.
Yesterday morning the worst of the problem was reported in the second largest site at Deodoro which saw visitors forced to queue for up to two hours to get inside to see rugby and hockey. Visitors also faced long journey times to reach various locations dotted around the metropolis of six million inhabitants. However, despite the large volume of passengers, public transport – including a new metro line completed just before the event started and bus corridors – were functioned smoothly.
High winds were another challenge for organisers yesterday with gusts of more than 70km/h forcing the postponement of the rowing heats.
Following the booing of Michel Temer as he declared the Games open on Friday night, police at several venues removed spectators for protesting against the country’s president. In May, Temer substituted the suspended Dilma Rousseff while she awaits an impeachment trial which is due to start within days of the Olympics concluding on August 21st.
As part of its agreement with the International Olympic Committee over staging the Games in May, Brazil enacted a law that bans the carrying of banners at Olympic events “for ends other than festive and friendly demonstrations”.
Yesterday organisers said the venues “are temples of understanding and sport” and that people holding up political signs will be “gently removed”. But Mario Andrada, the spokesman for the local organising committee, told a press conference yesterday that the chants and shouts of a political nature would be tolerated.
“People can protest. The law is intended for visual matters,” he said, saying that if verbal statements or booing of politicians had also been banned then half of the crowd at the opening ceremony would have had to have been ejected for booing the president.
Any hope the politicians had that the Games would distract attention away from the country’s political crisis was undermined yesterday with the latest leaks from the investigation into the corruption scandal at Petrobras. The country’s biggest selling magazine Veja claimed that executives from the Odebrecht construction conglomerate handed over almost €3 million in cash for candidates from the country’s biggest political party ahead of elections in 2014 following a request from Temer, who was vice-president at the time.
In a further sign that the Petrobras affair is about to engulf Brazil’s entire political class having already driven Rousseff’s Workers Party from power, the Folha de San Paulo newspaper reported yesterday that Odebrecht executives also detailed to prosecutors over €6.5 million in illegal donations to the failed presidential campaign of José Serra in 2010.
Defeated by Roussseff, Serra was appointed Brazil’s foreign minister by Temer after he assumed power following her suspension. Also defeated by Lula in 2002, Serra is widely believed to be preparing a third tilt at the presidency in 2018.
But as winter sunshine pushed the mercury past 30 degrees in Rio many residents were determined to try to forget the country’s woes. Wearing the top of local football club Flamengo Rio resident Caio Ivo said he was determined to enjoy the event as much as possible.
“It has been well organised. We’ve experienced no problems and the atmosphere has really good. It is a real chance to be distracted a bit from all the country’s problems,” he said while watching the rugby sevens with friends.
– (Additional reporting: Reuters)