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Poor face eviction for London Olympics: report

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 1,000 mainly poor people, perhaps many more, face losing their homes in London as a result of construction for the 2012 Olympics and the related boom in property prices, a housing rights group said on Tuesday.

The Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) issued the warning in an extensive report on the effect of large-scale events on the residents of cities around the world, including Beijing where the 2008 Games will be held.

“Already (in London), over five years before the Olympic Games are due to be staged, over 1,000 people face the threat of displacement from their homes, and housing prices are escalating,” said the report, “Fair Play for Housing Rights.”

“For young people wanting to move into the city, it is impossible to live there any more because of the astronomical property costs,” COHRE Executive Director Jean du Plessis told a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters.

The report, which pinpoints the effect on housing of events ranging from Olympic Games through soccer World Cups to Miss World pageants, said some 1.5 million residents of Beijing will have been displaced by the time the Games start in 2008.

Chinese government and Olympic officials have rejected the forecast as groundless.

While recognizing that the problems London faces are on a much smaller scale than those of Beijing, de Plessis said the British capital “is already failing to sufficiently prioritize housing concerns” in preparations for the Games.

“It is possible at this early stage to predict that, despite there being no reference to the need for evictions in the bid books, construction of Olympic venues and facilities will affect a number of marginalized groups,” COHRE declared.

Most affected will be “the poor, low-income earners, residents of public housing and ethnic minorities such as Gypsies and Irish Travelers,” it said.

Most of London’s Olympic sites, in or around the eastern and traditionally poorer side of the city, have major concentrations of relatively cheap private rented housing, “relied upon by thousands of people on low or average incomes.

“It is widely feared that the Olympic Games will therefore result in a reduction of the total stock of affordable housing in London,” said COHRE, an independent body which works with U.N. agencies and officials and universities round the world.

On Monday, London unveiled its logo for the 2012 Games, which was fiercely criticized by design critics -- and by many ordinary Londoners interviewed on British television -- as messy, dated and poorly executed.