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Turkey unrest triggers concern for Games

An anti-government protester gestures during a demonstration in central Ankara June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
An anti-government protester gestures during a demonstration in central Ankara June 9, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Karolos Grohmann

BERLIN (Reuters) - Violent protests across several major Turkish cities since the end of May have raised concerns for the safety of the upcoming Mediterranean Games in the country's coastal city of Mersin.

In a letter obtained by Reuters and addressed to 2013 Mediterranean Games organizers, the International Committee of Mediterranean Games (ICMG) is asking for security assurances and more information regarding the on-going demonstrations.

"I am writing to express, on behalf of my colleagues, our great concern and sympathy for the unfortunate events that have occurred in Turkey," ICMG secretary general Isidoros Kouvelos said in the letter addressed to Ugur Erdener, head of Turkey's Olympic Committee and to Mersin Mediterranean Games organizers.

"As you understand, all the Mediterranean family finds this situation quite worrying, especially as the Opening of the Games of Mersin will be in a few days," he said in the letter dated June 6.

Mersin will host the international multi-sports event between June 20-30, stepping in less than two years ago after the Greek city of Volos, whose bid was led by Kouvelos, had to hand the Games back due to the country's fiscal woes.

The Mediterranean Games organizers said all measures had been taken for safe competitions this month with Erdogan inaugurating new venues on Sunday.

"The Mersin 2013 local organizing committee and the National Olympic Committee of Turkey can confirm that the Mediterranean Games is unaffected by the largely peaceful protests that have taken place in the Adana-Mersin area, after an exhaustive review of the current situation with leading experts found that there is no elevated risk to the event participants," organizers said in a statement.

"Turkey has an excellent safety and security record when it comes to major sporting events over the last decade, and athletes, officials and fans can be confident of experiencing those same high standards."

Istanbul, bidding to host the 2020 Olympics, has witnessed tens of thousands of people flooding the central Taksim Square, where protests began nine days ago.

The demonstrations have spread to several major cities, including the capital Ankara, with under-fire Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan warning that his patience was running out.

Western countries have held up Erdogan's Turkey as an example of an Islamic democracy that could be emulated elsewhere in the Middle East but violent police action has drawn sharp criticism.

"In order to reassure the Mediterranean family, I think it would be useful if you could give to ICMG and all Mediterranean NOCs (national Olympic committees) more precise information about the situation in the area Adana-Mersin and also the assurance that all the necessary measures have been taken in order to ensure the safety of the Games," the ICMG said.

The Olympics-style event is held once every four years, with some 24 countries from the Mediterranean basin competing in 27 sports including athletics, swimming, gymnastics, football and basketball.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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