Winter Games begin, Putin keen to prove doubters wrong

Thu Feb 6, 2014 3:08pm EST
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By Mike Collett-White

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday determined to prove his doubters wrong after militant attacks, a row over gay rights and ballooning costs overshadowed preparations.

Putin has staked his reputation on hosting a safe and successful Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where a three-hour spectacle before 40,000 spectators at the new Fisht Stadium will signal the start of the full sporting program.

Some 37,000 security personnel are on high alert over threats by Islamist militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus region to attack the February 7-23 Games.

Separatist guerrillas seeking an independent Islamic state in Chechnya and neighboring regions of southern Russia have vowed to disrupt the Olympics, which they say are taking place on land seized from Caucasus tribes in the 19th century.

Despite a "ring of steel" around venues, Russian forces fear a woman suspected of planning a suicide bombing may have slipped through.

Security analysts believe that an attack is in fact more likely to occur elsewhere in Russia to humiliate Putin, who launched a war to crush a Chechen rebellion in 1999.

Twin suicide bombings killed at least 34 people in December in Volgograd, 400 miles northeast of Sochi.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak told reporters in Sochi that Russian security services were working with colleagues from Europe and North America to minimize the risk of attack.   Continued...

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon runs with the 2014 Sochi Olympics torch as the torch relay arrives in Sochi February 6, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov