Olympics security shortfall embarrasses UK

The British government had to answer questions in parliament on Thursday.

London Olympics Logo.

LONDON - Britain could be forced to deploy thousands of extra troops in London during the Olympics after a last-minute security blunder dealt an embarrassing blow to the government just two weeks before the Games.

With the eyes of the world trained on London, the government was forced to answer questions in parliament on the issue on Thursday as it struggled to contain snaking airport queues and extensive road works that threaten to harm its reputation.

About 23,700 security guards had been due to protect venues as part of Britain's biggest peacetime security operation, with 13,500 military personnel already earmarked to contribute.

But on Wednesday, Britain put an extra 3,500 soldiers on standby after the world's biggest security firm G4S said it might not be able to supply the 10,400 security guards it had promised as part of a 284 million pounds deal.

"Let me reiterate there is no question of Olympic security being compromised," Home Secretary Theresa May told parliament.

A call-up of the additional 3,500 troops would take the tally at the Games to 17,000, more than the 9,500 currently deployed in Afghanistan.

The deployment of troops poses an awkward balancing act for the government in trying to guarantee security at the Games while not letting its precautions become so intrusive that they spoil its atmosphere.

The disclosure follows months of increasing concerns that officials, athletes and fans could have to spend hours queuing to get through London's main Heathrow Airport where border controls have struggled to cope with large crowds.

Thousands of athletes and officials are expected to start arriving in the capital this weekend before the Olympic Village opens its doors on Monday.

Britain has already spent some 9 billion pounds on the Games and much of the early focus will fall on how the city can cope with such a massive influx of visitors - four years after a Beijing Games noted for its gleaming new airport and infrastructure.

Adding to the bumpy build-up to the Games, British mobile operator O2 apologised to users on Thursday after a network outage hit hundreds of thousands of customers. This raised concern about how it will cope with a jump in demand once the Olympics begin.