Britain readies more troops for Olympics

Posted at 07/19/12 2:38 AM

LONDON - Britain was forced to make more last-minute changes to the London Olympics on Wednesday, putting 2,000 extra troops on standby and shortening the opening ceremony to avoid transport problems.

But with nine days to go until the Games begin there was at least one bright spot as forecasters said the sun was set to shine on the Games after Britain's wettest summer in 100 years.

The run-up to the Games, which open on July 27, has been marred by a security fiasco sparked when private contractor G4S said it could not fulfil its contract to supply 10,500 security guards.

The government has already announced that it will deploy 3,500 extra troops to plug the gap, taking the total military personnel at the Games to 17,000 but on Wednesday it announced that it had even more on standby.

"Contingency plans are being drawn up for 2,000 more soldiers," sports minister Hugh Robertson told a press conference.

He said the government would "not pay a penny" more and that G4S would foot the bill for any further deployment.

Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking during a trip to Afghanistan to visit British troops battling Taliban militants, hailed the military for stepping in.

"I salute and applaud what the military have done to step in and I think they're doing an excellent job. If there are further steps we have to take of course we will take them," he told ITN television.

G4S's embattled boss Nick Buckles admitted during a grilling by lawmakers on Tuesday that the affair was a "humiliating shambles" and that he could not now guarantee the number of guards that the company could provide.

Britain currently has 17,000 military personnel lined up to perform security duties at the Games -- almost double the 9,500 troops that it has in Afghanistan.

Transport in congested London has been another worry ahead of the Olympics.

The organisers of the Games said on Wednesday they had scrapped part of the £27-million ($42-million, 34-million-euro) opening ceremony to ensure it finishes in time for people to catch subways and buses home.

"We need to make sure the show comes in on time to make sure spectators can get home on public transport, so we have taken the tough decision to cut a small stunt bike sequence of the show," a LOCOG spokesman said.

The show is designed to transform the stadium into a rural British idyll, complete with cows, sheep and synthetic clouds to provide traditional British rain -- in the unlikely event that the weather does not provide it.

One billion people around the globe are expected to watch the ceremony, directed by "Slumdog Millionaire" filmmaker Danny Boyle, while an audience of around 62,000 will see the show in the stadium.

With the eyes of the world on the Games, a British government official said the London Olympics were the country's best chance to sell itself for more than 150 years.

Alan Collins, the managing director for Olympic Legacy at UK Trade and Investment, said he was confident they would help Britain attract £6.0 billion (7.6 billion euros, $9.4 billion) in investment by 2016.

"This is the best opportunity since the Great Exhibition of 1851 to show off Britain," Collins told a press conference.

Britain's tourism chief meanwhile hit out at the country's "utter obsession" with the weather, brushing off concerns that weeks of heavy rain would deter visitors to the Games.

"Frankly, people do not come here to lie on a beach," said Sandie Dawe, chief executive of Visit Britain. "Anyway, the sun is going to come out -- have you seen the long-range weather forecast?"

The Met Office, Britain's national weather service, said some much anticipated sunshine would return on Sunday and that southern England would enjoy dry weather next week, in time for the opening ceremony.

Forecasters have blamed the downpours on the jet stream, a strong-flowing ribbon of wind that crosses the Atlantic, settling unusually far south, but they predict that it will move northwards again soon.