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Have the Olympics gotten too big?

London residents today lost a bid to stop rooftop missile deployments. Many Britons are questioning Olympics they say are most notable for super-sized costs and security.

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Last week, authorities detained a suspected British Islamic militant of Somali origin who violated a court order by traveling multiple times to transit stations near the Olympic park. 

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Britain has faced down greater moments of terrorist danger from the Irish Republican Army, says security expert Richard English at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

"It's not so much that the threat is raised [with the Olympics], but the visibility is raised," he says. Even a small attack would be instantly seen around the world and magnified.

Such a situation is tricky for the government, he says. If officials foil attacks, no one will notice and Parliament will wonder why so much money was spent. If an attack gets through, security agencies will be grilled.

The East End 'missile crisis'

No detail of the Games has more irked locals than the plan to post antiaircraft missiles around the city, including atop an East End apartment tower.

The plan came to light when the Ministry of Defense informed residents with a leaflet. Brian Whelan, a journalist living in the tower, publicized the issue and filed a lawsuit – only to have his landlords move to evict him.  

"I'm being victimized for what I did," Mr. Whelan told the recent gathering of residents, which the ministry chose at the last minute not to attend. "I am not sure how they are going to face a terrorist threat if they can't even face us."

The legal bid by residents to stop the missile deployment was quashed today by a British high court that ruled the weapons presented "no real threat" to the residents. The decision clears the way for the missiles to be deployed within days. 

Attendees at the recent gathering, including the local member of Parliament, voiced concerns about the lack of local input. Fliers announced an upcoming protest themed "Whose Games, Whose Olympics?"

Speakers mentioned the exclusive rights for McDonald's to sell food, Coca-Cola to sell drinks, and Visa to sell tickets. One person cited a Financial Times article quoting a government official as saying: "The Olympics is a tremendous opportunity to showcase what the private sector can do in the security space."

A loss of local identity

On a walk around the East End, the author Mr. Sinclair suggests that the internationalism on display with these Olympics is "massive corporate branding" and "the internationalism of the money markets."

The government plan to fix up the East End has relied on attracting private capital to the long-overlooked region. The introduction of big corporations, however, has raised anxieties about loss of local identity.

Sinclair points down the main street of Stratford near the Olympic Park. The street used to feel like a small English town, he says, dotted with old pubs and small businesses. Now, new housing blocks line the street, with a Holiday Inn Express perched in the middle.

"This street now could be in a suburb of any American city," he says.

He describes the bygone Stratford (pop. 20,000) as "scrappy," with artists living in former warehouses and some successful small businesses. Many locals have left, he says, driven out by rising rents.


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