UK military on charm offensive over Olympic missiles

Thu May 3, 2012 5:07pm EDT
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By Avril Ormsby

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's military launched a charm offensive on Thursday to calm residents' fears over plans to put missile batteries on their rooftops to protect this summer's Olympics from a possible 9/11-style attack.

"We want the focus to be on (Jamaican sprinter) Usain Bolt this summer and not us," said Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha, speaking at a cadet centre near Blackheath Common in southeast London, one of six potential sites for the anti-aircraft weapons.

An eight-day military exercise codenamed Olympic Guardian, began this week to test operations for a safe Games in July in what will be Britain's biggest peacetime security operation.

Missiles could be placed on a disused water tower in an apartment complex in Bow, next to the Olympic Park in east London, after defense chiefs decided against putting them inside the Games complex.

"We're trying to demilitarize this and let the sport do the talking," said Colonel Jon Campbell, commander of joint ground based air defense.

Some residents in the red-brick development of 700 flats in Bow have said they fear the missiles could make them a terrorist target and questioned the wisdom of shooting down an aircraft over a built-up area.

One high-profile critic at the apartments said he was even being evicted after raising concerns about the missiles in television and newspaper interviews.

"We received a phone call saying she (the landlady) was unhappy about the cameras and that we were being asked to leave. Maybe she panicked," said Brian Whelan, a 28-year old journalist.   Continued...