January 8, 2006

Italy relies on softly, softly security before Olympics

By Cristiano Corvino and Antonio Denti

SESTRIERE, Italy (Reuters) - In the Alps, Italy's Olympic
protective shield is starting to show.

Skiers in Sestriere, site of the Alpine skiing competition,
feel like extras in a James Bond movie as armed soldiers in
camouflage glide past on the pistes.

Softly, softly is the watchword before the start of the
Turin Winter Games on February 10. Security has been barely
whispered about outside the corridors of power because
officials want to avoid igniting fears of a terrorist attack.

"One of the best ways to maintain security is not to talk
about it," culture ministry under-secretary and Turin Games
chief Mario Pescante told Reuters in an interview.

"But none of the delegations are concerned about our
security. They can be sure that is has cost millions. Many
millions of euros."

Memories of last year's attacks in London and Amman are
still fresh and Italy is adamant that it can secure the Olympic
site that sprawls from the northern city of Turin to the French


A close ally of the U.S. war in Iraq, Italy has received
numerous Internet threats from purported Islamist militant
groups. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi increased fears by
saying a suicide bomber had targeted him in a soccer stadium.

Turin Olympics security chief Francesco Tagliente told
foreign media in November there was no specific threat to the
Games but it was a possible target. Local media have that
reported police are using wire-tapping to try to foil any
possible attack.

An additional fear for officials is a replay of the violent
demonstrations at the last major international event hosted by
Italy, 2001's G8 summit in Genoa where one person died during
fighting between anti-globalization protesters and police.

Most residents of Turin and other Olympic venues, who have
spent months dodging building works, back the presence of a
growing army of paratroopers patrolling their streets and
police snipers skiing the mountain passes.

"They need to step up security because these are troubled
times. We need to go ahead with it, we cannot give up in the
face of the threats," Turin resident Francesco Marrat, 35,

Italy has kept most of the Games security plans under wraps
although officials say the defenses put in place for Pope John
Paul's funeral last April should be taken as a guide.

Then, 10,000 police blanketed Rome while a surveillance
plane and anti-aircraft missiles guarded the skies. A warship
was anchored off the Mediterranean coast and police imposed a
no-fly zone across the region.


Such security comes only at a high price. Since the 1996
Atlanta Summer Games, which were disrupted by a bombing that
killed one person and injured more than 100, security costs for
Olympic hosts have risen dramatically.

Greece spent a record 1.0 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to
protect the 2004 Athens Olympics, the first Summer Games since
the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Italy has said it will not be able to cost security at the
Turin Games until they are finished. At the last Winter
Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, the United States spent
$310 million.

The final price of the Turin Games shield also depends on
the inhabitants of the Val di Susa, near the Olympic sites, who
may provide the toughest security challenge.

Thousands of the valley's inhabitants and environmentalists
clashed with police and the government in November over the
building of a high-speed railway linking Turin to Lyon in

Protests are on hold although organizer Antonio Ferrentino
told Reuters Television that could change.

"It's clear that if the negotiations stop or...if the works
resume...nobody can guarantee that people here won't try to
disrupt the Games," he said.

(Additional reporting by Rachel Sanderson in Rome)