Paris attacks heighten security fears for 2016 Rio Olympics

Despite the Paris attacks, Rio`s security officials said there has been no intensification of the alerts by federal police, defence and intelligence services regarding any threats.

Paris attacks heighten security fears for 2016 Rio Olympics

Rio de Janeiro: Last week`s Paris killings have raised fears about the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, a country with so little history of terrorism that the president has played down the chance of an attack and legislators long resisted bills to make it a crime.

Diplomats in Brasilia say Western governments are worried about the safety of their athletes and tourists at the games because they believe many Brazilian authorities are complacent, taking too much comfort in Brazil`s historical standing as a non-aligned, multicultural nation which is free of enemies.

President Dilma Rousseff last week brushed off the possibility of an incident in Brazil like the Islamic State attack in the French capital.

Security experts have said that many Brazilian officials do not realize just how big a stage the Olympics is for anyone seeking to sow terror, either through an attack on game venues, infrastructure nearby or the athletes and 500,000 tourists expected to attend.

But Brazilian officials, eager to pull off South America`s first Olympics, say they will ensure a safe games, due to begin next August 5. They argue that Brazil is used to hosting major festivities, like the huge annual Carnival celebrations in Rio and elsewhere.

Despite the Paris attacks, Rio`s security officials said there has been no intensification of the alerts by federal police, defence and intelligence services regarding any threats.

But Rio`s state security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame told a news conference on Thursday (November 19) that police were already prepared to deal with any terrorist attacks.

"Terrorism has always been, since our first event, our number one concern. That is, we have always worked with that possibility. Although we might think that Brazil has no history (of terrorism), we have since the beginning worked with that possibility. Terrorism is our priority and our number one focus and we have an entire structure prepared for that," he said.

On Thursday (November 19) elite Brazilian police took part in a training session with French instructors to learn new techniques for containing violent crowds. The training included state-of-the-art anti-riot gear such as gas masks, stun grenades and tear gas.

Although the training did not cover drills specifically designed for terrorist attacks, the elite squad police chief admitted that they might have to consider it for future sessions.

Organizers are using past Olympic games as models, cooperating with foreign intelligence services and building upon a successful safety record last year, when Brazil hosted the football World Cup. Compared with the last summer games, in London in 2012, they are doubling security personnel to 85,000 people.

The U.S. government has invited Brazilian security officials to learn about security at mega events like the Super Bowl and briefed them on crisis management at attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing.

But Beltrame said Rio police did not require any additional preparation and would be put to a test during the upcoming Olympic trial events.

"All the institutions know what to do and it`s not even the end of the year yet. In fact we could even have prepared all this later on, but we are well ahead and only waiting for some test events which are set to take place in December, March and April. But I can say that today we are prepared," he said.

For all its verdant beauty, Rio has many everyday security risks.

It is a chaotic sprawl where drug traffickers and armed gangs control slums. Police, if present, are often outnumbered and out gunned. Many of the slums abut Olympic venues, popular beaches and top hotels.

Brazil`s thousands of miles of borders, much of which cut through dense Amazon jungle, are nearly impossible to control. And Brazil`s Congress last month passed a bill allowing the government to exempt citizens of some nations from visas to attend the Games.

Brazil is about do away with a longstanding hurdle to fuller security ties with the United States by moving to make terrorism a crime punishable with up to 24 years in prison. 

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