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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Heavy security planned for next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver is justified by the threat of criminal protests, the head of the Games security unit said on Tuesday.
Bud Mercer, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, also denied allegations by some anti-Olympic groups that they have been harassed by police looking to get information on what they are planning to do during the 17-day event in February.
"There are groups that are considering or planning to engage in criminal protesting during the 2010 Games," Mercer told Vancouver's city council.
The Canadian government has budgeted C$900 million ($776 million) for security during the Games in Vancouver and the nearby mountain resort community of Whistler. The planned force includes 7,000 police, 4,500 troops and 5,000 private security guards.
The event in February 2010 is expected to bring 5,000 athletes and officials, more than 10,000 media representatives and 1.6 million ticket holders to the area on Canada's Pacific Coast. It will be followed almost immediately by the smaller 2010 Winter Paralympics.
The only public threat to the Olympics has come from a small group of activists who complain the Games will displace Vancouver's homeless and will be conducted on land taken from native Indians when Canada was founded as a country.
Mercer said his own personal survey of the Internet found scores of graphic and written items that appear to pose a criminal threat to the Games, adding they would concern "the average Canadian."
At least one city councilor said she questioned if Mercer was over-reacting to some of the images and said she was concerned about police tactics.
Mercer said he had no problem with legal demonstrations during the event, and promised that police would obey Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Some civil rights activists have expressed concern about the planned security as well as reports of undercover police agents trying to solicit information from groups opposed to the Olympics.
"Nothing can be further from the truth," Mercer told city council.
Police officials said they have attempted to "reach out" to groups expected to protest during the Games, and understood they have a right not to talk to police. Police say they will set aside legal protest zones in the city.
Mercer said security planning has been complicated somewhat by Vancouver's coastal geography and the fact that the air space that needs to be watched closely during the Games extends over the United States.
Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson