* Authorities say prepared for protests, attention-seekers
* Leading UK Islamist says relay, Games likely to be target
By Michael Holden
LONDON, March 9 Attention seekers rather
than the violent protesters who marred the torch relay four
years ago will pose the biggest threat to this year's relay
during its 70-day tour of Britain prior to the London Olympics,
police said on Friday.
A team of about 70 police officers will be dedicated to
protecting the Olympic torch and its bearers during a 12,800 kms
tour of Britain, taking in the outer reaches of Scotland, Wales,
and Northern Ireland as well as the Irish capital Dublin.
There were violent protests in major international cities,
including London, during torch rallies for the 2008 Beijing
Olympics over China's human rights record and foreign policies
Protesters hurled themselves into the path of the relay in
London and campaigners tried to grab the torch or put out the
flame with a fire extinguisher.
"I think the biggest threat will be attention seekers,
somebody trying to run alongside and grab a bit of the glory,"
said Bob Broadhurst, the officer in charge of Olympic policing
"I'm sure we'll get the odd protest every now and then up
and down the country," he told reporters during a demonstration
of how the police team would deal with variety of potential
situations at a training centre in Hendon, north London.
About 30 specially trained but unarmed police officers,
chosen after a rigorous selection process, will take turns to
run alongside the torchbearers for as long as 12 hours a day.
"We can scale it up if we think the threat deserves it.
We'll be as tough and robust as we need to be," said Broadhurst,
adding the team were the "last resort" of defence for the torch.
Britain has witnessed a number of violent protests in the
last few years as the government implements austerity measures
to combat a large budget deficit, including four days of rioting
last August, the worst public disorder in decades.
The threat from militant Islamists endures seven years after
suicide bombers killed 52 people, while in Northern Ireland,
armed groups opposed to a peace deal by the Irish Republican
Army (IRA) continue to carry out attacks.
The British authorities do not believe the torch relay will
face the same issues the Chinese had to deal with, but have
nonetheless chosen a much lower profile route.
After having its flame ignited by the sun's rays at Ancient
Olympia, the torch relay will begin in Britain at Land's End,
the most southwesterly point of the country, on May 18
Each of the 8,000 bearers will carry an individual version
of the gold-coloured aluminium torch, likened to a huge cheese
grater because of its meshed appearance, and will cover an
average of 300 metres (yards) each.
After travelling the country, taking in 1,018 villages along
the way, it will return to the capital for the opening ceremony
at the Olympic stadium in east London on July 27.
"Whilst we don't expect this to be a protest event ... it's
right and proper that we are prepared," Security Minister James
Brokenshire told Reuters after running with a torch himself
during the practice exercise.
"We recognise during the course of the Games and also on the
relay itself, the eyes of the country and of the world will be
Anjem Choudary, a leading Islamist campaigner who has been
involved in numerous high-profile demonstrations over the last
decade, told Reuters the torch rallies could be a target.
"I think that's a possibility definitely," said Choudary, a
senior member of the now banned group Muslims Against Crusades
which burned two large poppies during a two-minute silence in
London to mark Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the day the
Armistice was signed marking the end of World War One.
"Any opportunity to pass on the message will be taken full
advantage of," he said, adding that, while the Games themselves
would not be a focal point, those attending could be.
"If there are foreign dignitaries for example from Israel or
from some of the other countries where Muslims are being
tortured...to do demonstrations against them and where they may
be staying, I think that will be high on the agenda."
(Editing by John Mehaffey)