RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AFP) by Sebastian Smith
A riot during the Olympic torch relay cast a shadow over the Rio Games starting in just over a week Thursday, marking a new low in a ritual that had been meant to unite Brazil.
The torch is nearing the end of a 300-city relay that will end with the lighting of the Olympic flame in the Maracana stadium at the opening ceremony on August 5.
But while organizers portray the epic journey as a chance to ignite public enthusiasm, repeated security incidents have turned the torch into a symbol of the organizational glitches and social discontent overshadowing South America’s first Olympics.
In Angra dos Reis, a coastal resort south of Rio, crowds angry over lack of public transport and nearly bankrupt Rio state’s late payment of salaries fought with police at the torch parade late Wednesday.
Video broadcast on Globo television and social media showed riot police responding with rubber bullets and tear gas, while the crowd chanted “put out the torch, put out the torch!”
This came after repeated attempts in other cities to douse the torch with fire extinguishers or buckets of water.
Highlight reels of other torch mishaps have gone viral online, including runners falling over, a police motorbike crashing into the parade, a man attempting to seize the torch, and political protests.
In June, a rare, captive jaguar — the same animal chosen for Brazil’s Olympic mascot — was shot dead after escaping handlers at a torch ceremony.
Athletes arrive, controversies mount
There was better news for Rio organizers in the arrival overnight of Jamaica’s Olympic sprint superstar Usain Bolt, who hopes to defend his multiple gold medals.
Wearing a black tracksuit with white stripes, sunglasses and headphones, Bolt was in a hurry to leave the airport. “I didn’t sleep on the flight,” he told a welcoming committee of journalists and officials.
A more controversial set of arrivals were expected later in the day, with some 70 Russian athletes from a team slashed by bans in a state-sponsored doping scandal due to fly in at around 6:00 pm (2100 GMT).
Rio organizers were also still racing to complete emergency repairs to the athletes’ Village, where some 19,000 team members will live.
Half of the buildings had problems ranging from blocked toilets to faulty wiring when teams began moving in over the weekend.
Although these glitches were expected to be ironed out by the end of Thursday, new controversy was brewing over allegations by government labor inspectors that the approximately 600 workers are being made to work nearly around the clock without legal contracts.
Most security concerns have centered on Rio’s rampant street crime, but authorities last week arrested 12 men accused of forming a would-be jihadist terrorism cell.
Brazilian media reports said Thursday that another man in an apparently separate case has been detained on suspicion of terrorism links.
His lawyer, Edson Ferreira, said the allegations lacked substance. “There is no basic accusation, or complete accusation,” he told Globo television.
“There’s nothing more than suspicions that he put posts on Facebook, that he posted links related to Islamic State, but which have nothing concretely to do with him. He has no link with Islamic State,” the lawyer said.
Brazilian officials have downplayed the seriousness of the group arrested last week, calling them “amateur” and “disorganized.”
Members of the group are accused of discussing potential attacks, attempting to buy a rifle online, and declaring allegiance to the Islamic State group via the Internet.