Originally created 02/07/06

Olympics security stepped up in response to protests



ROME - Security officials at the Turin Olympics have stepped up their efforts in response to worldwide protests among Muslims over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Italy's top law enforcement agencies met on Monday with Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, who was briefed by Italy's intelligence agency Sisde on the measures under way at the Olympics, a statement from his office said.

"Particular attention was dedicated to the consequences that there could be in Italy from the wave of protests in the Islamic world and to the additional prevention measures adopted in recent days," the statement said.

Pisanu called a meeting of Italy's public security committee Thursday to finalize its analysis of the security situation in Turin, the statement said, without specifying what additional measures were taken.

Italy is mounting a massive security operation in Turin, with some 10,000 police reinforced by soldiers to protect Olympic venues. NATO is providing two AWACS surveillance planes to patrol over northern Italy during the Games, which begin Friday and end Feb. 26.

Monday's briefing was also prompted by protests that enveloped the Olympic torch relay Sunday as it passed through a northern valley recently wracked by violent demonstrations against the construction of a high-speed rail line. Torch bearers were forced to change their route after it was surrounded by demonstrators who unsuccessfully tried to extinguish the flame with a banner.

Residents and environmentalists in the Susa Valley - home to some Olympic events - have been protesting for months against plans to build the link between Turin and Lyon, France.

The ministry statement said there also was concern after a violent clash Sunday between police and demonstrators who tried to interrupt a speech by European parliament lawmaker Mario Borghezio, a member of the right-wing Northern League party.

Borghezio was speaking about freedom of expression and mentioned the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which incensed Muslim communities worldwide and sparked weekend protests in European and Middle Eastern cities.

The cartoons were first published in September in Denmark, and have since been reprinted in several countries, many in Europe, including Italy.

The five athletes - all curlers - and five officials representing Denmark at the games say they have not felt any backlash related to the drawings or protests.

"We have been in an ongoing dialogue with the Danish Security Intelligence Service," team chief Jesper Frigast Larsen said. "We have received no warnings or told to take extra precautions."

One drawing, originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, shows the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.

"We're going to be in the safest place in the world," Larsen said.