IOC wraps up final inspection in London

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By STEPHEN WILSON, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — With the opening ceremony less than four months away, the International Olympic Committee is confident the London Games will deliver a "summer like no other" in Britain.

The IOC's coordination commission wrapped up its 10th and final inspection visit to London on Friday and offered fulsome praise to local organizers on their preparations for the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics.

"London is ready to welcome the world," commission chairman Denis Oswald said. "We can feel that London is feeling the fever of the games."

A small group of protesters, meanwhile, demonstrated nearby against Olympic sponsor Dow Chemicals over its links to the 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster in India. London officials received a petition signed by more than 25,000 people, and organizing committee chief Sebastian Coe said he was willing to meet with the group.

With construction of the Olympic venues complete and the games remaining within the $14.8 billion public sector budget, the IOC has no contentious issues with London organizing committee LOCOG.

"We have no doubt this summer will be a summer like no other in the U.K." Oswald said at a news conference alongside Coe and LOCOG chief executive Paul Deighton. "The world expects a lot from London but we know that London is ready and people will not be disappointed."

Oswald said London still has many things to complete, but only minor details.

"They have four months to make refinements," he said.

Oswald and IOC executive director Gilbert Felli visited the Olympic Stadium in east London this week and reviewed plans for getting spectators and athletes in and out of the opening ceremony.

The ceremony, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle, will start at 9 p.m. local time. The IOC has mandated that the show must be over by midnight so athletes can get to bed on time.

"It's not easy to manage," Oswald said. "We checked LOCOG's plans on the spot. We are confident the plans will work satisfactorily. Only a few details need to be corrected."

Oswald said athletes can leave the ceremony early if they wish. The athletes' village is located adjacent to the Olympic Park, so competitors won't have far to travel.

"We anticipate the majority of athletes will attend," he said.

As for who will light the cauldron at the opening ceremony, Oswald said the decision will be made by LOCOG and remain secret.

"I know it's not me," Oswald said. "It's not Seb."

Coe has been mentioned by the British media and British bookmakers as among the contenders to light the flame, although his position as organizing committee leader always made that seem unlikely. Five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave remains the betting favorite.

Before the news conference, about two dozen activists protested against Dow's ties to the Olympics, including sponsorship of a decorative wrap that will be installed around the main stadium.

Five protesters lay on the ground covered by white sheets with the words "Justice for Bhopal."

Dow bought Union Carbide in 2000. Union Carbide's plant is blamed for the gas leak in Bhopal that killed an estimated 15,000 people. Critics argue the purchase makes Dow responsible for lingering groundwater contamination and other issues.

Several boxes of anti-Dow petitions were handed to LOCOG communications director Jackie Brock-Doyle, and Coe said he was open to a meeting with the activists.

"There is an ongoing exchange," he said. "We have been talking for some time."

Oswald reiterated the IOC's position that Dow was not responsible for the disaster.

"We realize the tragedy that Bhopal was," he said. "We have a lot of sympathy for what happened. We know Dow was not the owner of the company and they were not running the plant at the time of this accident.

"Since then they have been tested in court twice and it is why we feel comfortable about this relationship. We know that LOCOG is engaged with them to talk."

On another issue, Deighton said the next round of public ticket sales will take place sometime after the draw for the Olympic soccer tournament on April 24. He said about 4 million tickets remain — 1.5 million for football, 1 million for other events and 1.5 million for the Paralympics.

Coe said plans were still being finalized for grounds passes that would allow fans without tickets to venues to be allowed into the Olympic Park to watch events on giant screens.

With most spectators set to use public transportation during the games, critics have spoken out against the creation of special Olympic lanes for IOC officials and VIPs.

"Personally, I'm sure I will use public transport," Oswald said. "But I may also have to take a car because of my duties."

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