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'In the line of fire': UK confirms 6 London Olympic missile defense sites

Andrew Cowie/AFP - Getty Images, file

The Lexington Building in east London will be a site for the stationing of surface-to-air missiles during the London 2012 Olympic Games, June 30, 2012.

LONDON - Britain's government confirmed on Tuesday that air defense systems would be stationed at six London sites during the Olympics, including on the rooftops of two apartment blocks, despite fervent opposition from some residents.

"It's a disaster because understandably most people in the area believe it is a bad idea to put surface-to-air missiles on building blocks," said Chris Nineham, who lives near one of the sites. 


The 49-year-old member of campaign group "Stop the Olympic Missiles", which gathered more than 1,000 signatures to oppose a local missile presence, added that any fired missiles could explode over some of the most densely populated areas of London. 

Missiles on my apartment? London resident balks at Olympics security measures

Nineham, who lives near one of the buildings housing the weapons, said he will be "in the line of fire" during the games.  

In an email to msnbc.com, Ministry of Defense spokeswoman Jenny Dickens wrote, "Nobody has ever suggested that the use of GBAD [Ground Based Air Defense] would not have implications on the ground but the point is that these systems are proposed as an absolute last resort option, as part of a much broader, layered air security plan aimed at protecting all of those involved in the Olympics, including local residents."

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond earlier touted the importance of air security.

"While there is no reported threat to the London Olympics, the public expects that we put in place a range of measures aimed at ensuring the safety and security of this once-in-a-generation event. Ground-based air defence systems will form just one part of a comprehensive, multi-layered air security plan which, I believe, will provide both reassurance and a powerful deterrent," he said in a statement.

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The issue of security is a particularly relevant one to Olympics organizers. The decision to award the Olympics to London was announced on July 6, 2005.  Just a day later, London suffered its worst peacetime attack when four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters.

The games will see the country's largest peacetime security operation and involve tens of thousands of security officials, with 13,500 military personnel, 12,000 police and 10,000 private contractors. 

Scotland Yard and the Royal Marines teamed up in a show of strength against terrorists who might target the Olympics, practicing high-speed drills using helicopters and boats on the River Thames.

Other defenses on hand for the games will include a Royal Navy helicopter carrier moored in the River Thames, Typhoon jets, and Puma helicopters, the Ministry of Defense said.  The government was yet to decide whether to keep the defense systems in place throughout the Paralympics.

London beefs up security before Olympics

The Ministry of Defense said it was confident it would defeat "the small number of activists" who launched legal proceedings against the proposed missile placement and are seeking an injunction to prevent the missiles from being deployed. 

Meanwhile, East London resident groups challenging the decision promised a protest in front of London's Royal Courts of Justice on Monday, July 9, when the hearing about the ground-based air defense system takes place. 

Opposition to the missiles is part of a more general feeling of ambivalence towards the London games.

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Prominent conservative journalist Charles Moore recently criticized how the games were being handled in news weekly The Spectator:

"For anyone unOlympic living, working in or visiting London between now and September, there is nothing but boredom, inconvenience and officially sanctioned insolence on offer. Thanks to the loathsome ideology of the Olympics, which manages somehow to be fascist and internationalist at the same time, free expression has been banned, and anyone using the Games symbol or the word 'Olympic' in any way is threatened with arrest."

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