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NEWS FEATURE Olympics beset by problems but Brazil's people can still make Rio grand By Georg Ismar, dpa

Europe
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Brazil‘s preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games have been chaotic: Rio has run out of cash and the financial strain is being felt everywhere. But perhaps the Games can harness the enthusiasm of the party-loving populace to overcome its problems.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - "Straight lines are boring," the legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer said. "Hard and inflexible, created by man."

With that in mind, it‘s easy to see why he had an office looking onto Copacabana beach. Illuminated in the fiery red of the sunrise, the curves of the hills and bay show why Niemeyer thought nature the finest architect of them all.

Were Niemeyer alive to day, he would no doubt be dismayed that his view had been intruded upon by the very 90-degree angles he so despised. A large, square, blue box sits in the middle of the sand. In it are 12 spacious rooms, each with a panoramic view of the bay - TV studios for the Olympic Games.

The blue box isn‘t the only assault on the senses: the soothing early-morning soundtrack of lapping waves has been replaced by the thudding and clanging of pneumatic drills and pickaxes from builders working on the new temporary arena that will host the Olympic beach volleyball tournament.

Alone on the Copa sand and clad in orange, Junior Neto collects the rubbish. "The Games are a huge chance for Rio as more tourists will be coming," he says. "But I‘m worried about the security, it‘s dangerous here."

Neto earns 1,800 reals (550 dollars) per month for his work. With Rio experiencing severe financial trouble, however, his salary has often been paid late recently. Despite his monetary worries, he‘s looking forward to seeing the marathon.

Neto‘s attitude is emblematic of the mixed bag that is Rio and the Olympic Games. One of the deepest recessions in Brazil‘s history threatens to force it out of the top 10 world economies and is having a direct impact on Olympic preparations, yet there is hope that the spirit of the people can elevate the Games.

When Brazil was awarded the Games, it was seen as a future global economic powerhouse. Now, chaos reigns: president Dilma Rousseff was suspended in May on charges of manipulating government accounts.

Since her suspension, interim president Michel Temer‘s new government has already lost three ministers to corruption allegations.

Lack of money has seen strikes called at Rio‘s universities and hospitals while the federal state of Rio de Janerio has been hit hard by falling oil prices.

Consequently, it has been loaned over 825 million dollars by the government - an injection that was made urgent when police said they couldn‘t guarantee security during the Olympics without extra cash.

Amid these conditions, there are fears that some locals could protest the amount of money being spent on the games - some 11 billion dollars (although more than half of that comes from private finance).

"I actually believe that the people will celebrate, distract themselves from the crisis, maybe a little bit like the carnival," Junior Neto says.

Willians Aruajo, a 37-year-old who for 20 years has earned his living building sandcastles, is of the same opinion. "I think that the Games are good for us at the moment," he says.

Aruajo‘s latest work is an imposing construction incorporating the Olympic rings plus the figures of a couple of scantily clad women and Jesus Christ.

He normally earns around 20 dollars a day from tourists who want to pose in front of his creations; he expects the flood of Olympic enthusiasts to Rio in the next few weeks will see him a earn good deal more.

The city‘s all-action mayor, Eduardo Paes, agrees. Paes hopes that Rio can replicate the success of that Barcelona enjoyed in 1992, when tourists flocked to the city in the aftermath of a beatifully staged Olympics.

Many of Rio‘s inhabitants think the Games will be just such a success, saying that the negative headlines prior to the 2014 World Cup didn‘t stop the competition from being celebrated in good spirit.

Perhaps the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will also want to use Rio to show that it has learned from criticism of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which were denounced as being bloated and for building stadiums that would have no purpose beyond the Games themselves.

Like the beach volleyball arena, many of the constructions in Rio are temporary and one will be turned into a school when the Games are over.

One major snag is the new 2.75-billion-dollar underground line. Set to run from the city centre to the district of Barra, where most of the venues are, it is not yet complete; replacement buses are planned should it not be finished in time. This is a city, however, that is known for its ability to improvise.

There has been disappointment in Rio that some international sports stars have pulled out of the Games for fear of contracting Zika, especially when the virus is not nearly as widespread here as it is in the northeast of the country.

The World Health Organisation was comfortable enough that the level of threat was low to declare on June 14 that there was no reason to move or delay the Games.

The main worry for many is security. The armed robbery of the gold-medal-winning Spanish Olympic sailor Fernando Echevarri in May was an incident the authorities hope will not be repeated.

Aside from that, the increased instances of terror attacks in Europe recently have resulted in Brazil‘s security forces being at a higher state of alert than they normally would be.

The security forces are 85,000 strong and the beach areas will be monitored by hundreds of cameras, drones and helicopters. "We‘re absolutely relaxed with regard to security during the Games," Andrei Rodrigues, the Olympics security chief in Rio, said.

Rodrigues says Brazil have proved that they can handle security at other large events and that they are working with security forces from 55 other countries.

While it won‘t all be perfect, Rio will be an Olympics of colour and atmosphere - and maybe an outbreak of hope among Brazilians. Hope for others, too: one of the teams to take the acclaim of the crowd at the opening ceremony in the Maracana will be composed entirely of refugees.

The refugee team will make their entrance under the Olympic flag and march in front of the hosts‘ Olympic team. "The team can be a symbol of hope for all refugees," IOC president Thomas Bach said.

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