Monday, July 28, 2014


Russia

Winter Olympics Events Get Under Way

The men's slopestyle snowboarding event is already under way in Sochi. (file photo)
The men's slopestyle snowboarding event is already under way in Sochi. (file photo)
By RFE/RL
The first event of the 2014 Winter Olympics has begun in Sochi, Russia -- the men’s snowboard slopestyle qualifications -- a day ahead of the ceremony marking the games' official opening on February 7.

The snowboard event began at 10 a.m. local time.

Women's qualifications in the event were scheduled to start a few hours later.

The opening training session of the women's downhill skiing was halted on February 6 to allow workers to shave down an "intimidating" final jump, after skiers voiced fears about its safety.

The men's training run went on as scheduled on a different course.

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin toured the Olympic village on February 5, declaring that Russia is ready to host the games.

The Olympic torch also arrived in Sochi on the same day, having traveled some 65,000 kilometers, including a jaunt to the North Pole and a visit into space with Russian cosmonauts.

UN Chief Denounces Attacks, Discrimination

In related news, in a speech to the International Olympic Committee in Sochi, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned attacks and discrimination against homosexuals in Russia.

"We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex people," Ban said in the Russian Black Sea resort on February 6. "We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments, and discriminatory restrictions they face."

Ban also reiterated a call for warring parties around the world to lay down their arms during the Olympics.

Ban's remarks come amid international criticism of Russia's recent law banning so-called gay "propaganda."

Also on February 5, a senior Russian official cautioned athletes and visitors at the Winter Olympics in Sochi against promoting homosexuality to minors.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said homosexuals "can make propaganda about their sexual orientation among adults" but should "leave the kids alone."

He added that the Olympic Charter and Russian law forbid the spreading of political propaganda during a sporting event.

Writers Call Russian Laws "Chokehold"

Ahead of the official opening of the Sochi games, more than 200 internationally known authors also criticized Russia's antigay and blasphemy laws as a "chokehold" on creativity.

In an open letter published on January 6 in Britain’s "The Guardian" newspaper, the authors said writers are "specifically" put at risk by recent Russian laws outlawing religious insult and the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" among minors – as well as the recriminalization of defamation.

Writers who signed the letter include Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and Jonathan Franzen.

They vowed not to stand by "as we watch our fellow writers and journalists pressed into silence or risking prosecution and often drastic punishment for the mere act of communicating their thoughts."

The letter says "a healthy democracy must hear the independent voices of all its citizens."

U.S. Issues 'Tooth Paste' Bomb Warning

Meanwhile, as athletes and spectators gather in Sochi for the Olympics, the U.S. Homeland Security Department is warning airlines flying to Russia that terrorists may try to smuggle explosives onto airplanes that have been hidden in toothpaste tubes.

U.S. officials say the threat is to airlines that have direct flights to Russia, including some that originate in the United States.

In a statement issued on February 5, security officials said they were "not aware of a specific threat" to the U.S. homeland.

The statement also said the United States is sharing security information with Russian authorities.


With reporting by AP and AFP

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