Russia launches Sochi clampdown a month before Games

Russia launches Sochi clampdown a month before Games
A policeman watches as a bus, destroyed in an earlier explosion, is towed away in Volgograd December 30, 2013. A bomb ripped apart a bus in Volgograd on Monday, killing 14 people in the second deadly attack blamed on suicide bombers in the southern Russian city in 24 hours and raising fears of Islamist attacks on the Winter Olympics

SOCHI, Russia - Russia launches the largest security operation in Olympic history on Tuesday with one month to go before Vladimir Putin kicks off the Winter Games in Sochi amid renewed fears of suicide bombings.

Army soldiers manning armoured vehicles and navy officers patrolling the Black Sea will join a 37,000-strong contingent overseeing the February 7-23 sports extravaganza that will spotlight Putin's 14-year reign.

The prestige project - often referred to as the "Putin Games" and costing some $50 billion (37 billion euros) - has already been blighted by snubs from Western leaders upset with what they see as Kremlin-backed discrimination against gays and the infringement of many other rights.

Railway station and trolleybus blasts that killed 34 in Volgograd last month meanwhile revived fears that Islamists from the nearby Caucasus will seek to wreak havoc on the globally watched event.

Putin responded to mounting diplomatic pressure over the weekend by easing the terms of a tough decree banning all forms of political protest in Sochi.

And Russia's answer to the threat of terror will be unveiled Tuesday when the feared Federal Security Service (FSB) takes charge of a security clampdown even fiercer than that seen at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

"Starting January 7, all divisions responsible for ensuring the guests' security at the Games are being put on combat alert," Emergencies Situation Minister Vladimir Puchkov said.

"Every facility will be put under protection and a space-based monitoring system will be launched."

Additional measures deployed down the line will let the FSB monitor mobile phone and e-mail traffic while obliging all foreign visitors to register online.

Putin brought Russia's first post-Soviet Games to the palm tree-lined port against long odds in 2007 by personally telling Olympic chiefs in Guatemala that he would stage the best festivities they had yet seen.

That promise was soon followed by orders for Russia's titans of industry to transform Sochi's crumbling Communist-era skyline into that of a futuristic city worthy of the Gulf emirates.

The mission has been largely accomplished despite protests about the Games' environmental impact and reports of migrant workers being employed at illegally low wages and housed in inhumane conditions.

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