Mon, September 23, 2013

Romney questions London's readiness

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency


U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London, July 26, 2012. (REUTERS)

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron wasn’t basking in the glory of the moment when he said Thursday that after “seven years of waiting, planning, building and dreaming” the Olympics were poised to begin.

Instead, Cameron was fending off criticism from United States presidential hopeful Mitt Romney at a news conference outside the Olympic Stadium.

“It’s hard to know just how well (London 2012) will turn out,” Romney, the chief executive of the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Games, had said Wednesday in an interview with NBC.

“There are a few things that were disconcerting: The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

Cameron defended London’s preparations.

“This is a time of some economic difficulty for the U.K., everyone knows that,” Cameron said. “Look at what we’re capable of achieving as a nation even at a difficult economic time. Look behind me at this extraordinary Olympic Park, built from nothing in seven years.”

Romney is in the Olympic city to meet Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband. Romney’s wife, Ann, has a horse named Rafalca entered in the Games as the mount for U.S. dressage rider Jan Ebeling.

Cameron said security is “the absolute top priority” with the biggest peacetime operation in the country’s history to keep land, air and water safe. The city is blanketed with 18,000 soldiers and 12,000 police officers, deployed mainly near Games venues and major transportation hubs.

Cameron said new and expanded train stations and other transportation improvements would help smooth the flow on the subway, the backbone of London’s transportation system.

“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active bustling cities in the world,” he said. “It’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

“We have to say this is an extraordinary few weeks in London. We can’t say to people life is going to be completely as normal. It isn’t.” London also was host of the 1908 and 1948 Games. The 2012 edition is estimated by The Guardian to cost 11 billion pounds, or $17.36 billion.

Conservative leader Cameron became prime minister in May 2010 as the leader of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. He has three years left in his mandate, unless the coalition splits. During the Games, he will make campaign-like appearances in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to promote the Olympics as a national celebration. “Every day of the Games we will be demonstrating there is no more diverse, more open, more tolerant city in the world than this one,” he said.

“This is not a London Games, this is not an England Games, this is a United Kingdom Games.” Meanwhile, Cameron played down the errant display Wednesday of a South Korean flag at a women’s soccer game featuring North Korea. The Games organizing committee issued an apology and Cameron called it an “honest mistake, honestly made.” “It was unfortunate, it shouldn’t have happened and I think we can leave it at that,” he said.