News from Brazil, the United Kingdom and Europe

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on February 7, 2012

BRAZIL – Olympics, World Cup preparation bring evictions

RIO DE JANEIRO – …Rio de Janeiro is giving the Maracana stadium’s neighborhood a $63.2 million facelift as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Maracana will be the jewel crowning both events, with the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the final World Cup matches held within its storied blue and gray walls.

A shantytown near the stadium, known as Favela do Metro, does not fit in that picture. It’s being bulldozed; hundreds of families have been bought out as part of a “revitalization” process for the big events and the hordes of foreigners they will draw. …

All across Rio, people are being pushed out of their homes in dozens of communities like Metro to make way for new roads, Olympic venues and other projects.

Authorities won’t say how many people are affected and mostly don’t provide details on the plans for the areas where residents are being evicted.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press, however, show that in 2010 alone, the municipal housing authority made 6,927 payments for resettlement costs, rent supplements or buy-outs to people in 88 communities across Rio.

Nationwide, about 170,000 people are facing threats to their housing, or already have been removed, in the 12 cities that will host World Cup matches, according to the Coalition of Popular Committees for the World Cup and the Olympics, an advocacy group for residents of the affected shantytowns.

In Rio, the city housing authority and the international and local Olympic organizing committees say all is being done according to the law. But residents, advocates and legal authorities say rights are being abused and warn that could be the legacy of the Olympics and World Cup.

The office of Rio’s municipal housing authority chief, Jorge Bittar, responded to repeated inquiries from the AP about removals with a statement saying that “resettling has been done in the most democratic way possible, respecting the rights of each family.”

It said officials explain to each family the value of their property, and then offer a choice from several options: a home in a federal housing project in the place of their choosing, a stipend of up to $230 a month to rent a home they find themselves, compensation for their house, or assistance in purchasing another house.

The International Olympic Committee and Rio 2016, the local organizing committee, said in a statement that they’re following the resettlement issue closely and think removals abide by Brazilian law.

Residents of Metro and lawyers tell a different story. (See “Background” below)

UNITED KINGDOM – Queen celebrates 60 years on throne

LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II marked 60 years on the throne Monday with a message thanking all those who have supported her over her reign and reaffirming her dedication to serving the British people.

Tributes from British officials poured in to honor the 85-year-old monarch on Accession Day. She ascended the throne when her father, George VI, died on Feb. 6, 1952 and is the longest-serving monarch after Queen Victoria, who reigned for more than 63 years.

Before a year’s worth of festivities to celebrate her milestone, the queen said she and her husband [Prince Philip] have been “deeply moved” to receive so many kind messages about her Diamond Jubilee.

“I am writing to thank you for the wonderful support and encouragement that you have given to me and Prince Philip over these years,” she wrote in a message to the nation. “In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighborliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign.”

The queen’s Diamond Jubilee will be feted with a series of regional, national and international events throughout 2012.

Over the course of 2012, members of the royal family — including Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge [Kate Middleton] — will fan out across the globe and travel to Commonwealth countries including Canada, Jamaica and Belize.

The queen and Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, will stay closer to home, touring the U.K. from March to July.

The 2012 Diamond Jubilee weekend will be held from June 2-5, with the main highlight likely to be a huge pageant on the Thames river featuring a 1,000-strong flotilla.

Elizabeth expressed hope that the coming year will be a time to give thanks “for the great advances” since she took the throne and “look forward to the future with a clear head and warm heart.” …

EUROPE – Deep freeze reaches North Africa as it claims more than 300 lives

ROME – The bitterly cold weather that has brought much of Europe to a standstill claimed more victims as the blanket of snow reached as far south as North Africa.

Rome was blanketed in white by the heaviest snowfall in 27 years, with children sledging down the slopes of the Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman chariot-racing arena, cross-country skiers taking to the banks of the Tiber and tourists building snowmen in St Peter’s Square, in front of the Vatican.

Cars trying to drive in the capital were fixed with snow chains – a rare sight for a city known for its mild winters and scorching summers. …

In Poland the bad weather claimed another eight more lives, bringing the death toll to 53.

In Serbia, around 70,000 people remained cut off in villages enveloped in snow, with police and the army stepping in to provide basic necessities.

In Bosnia, avalanches and strong winds isolated hundreds of villages in remote areas, and a state of emergency was declared.

Greece declared a state of emergency in the Peloponnese peninsula after torrential rain caused widespread flooding.

So far eastern and central Europe have suffered most from the extreme weather, but the cold front was moving west, affecting flights out of France and coating the Eiffel Tower with snow.

The cold weather extended as far south as Algeria, with rare snowfall on several towns and cities. Roads were blocked and villages in mountainous areas were cut off. At least 16 people were reported to have died – five of them from carbon monoxide poisoning linked to gas heating.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at Chicago on Feb. 3, Feb. 6 and from London’s Daily Telegraph on Feb. 6th.)