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Turkey protests do not affect Games bid - Istanbul 2020

Protesters run in panic as riot police and water cannons returned to Istanbul's Taksim square June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis
Protesters run in panic as riot police and water cannons returned to Istanbul's Taksim square June 11, 2013. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

By Karolos Grohmann

(Reuters) - Violent protests that have hit Turkey over recent days need to end swiftly but will have no bearing on Istanbul's candidacy to host the 2020 Olympics, bid leaders said on Wednesday.

Turkey is also scheduled to host the Under-20 soccer World Cup, starting on June 21, and the sport's world governing body FIFA said the tournament would go ahead as planned.

Riot police have cleared the Istanbul square at the center of almost two weeks of protest against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

"The feedback Istanbul 2020 has received from IOC (International Olympic Committee) members and the wider Olympic family continues to be positive and very understanding," bid officials said in a statement.

"While they are obviously as keen as we are for a swift and peaceful resolution, the majority of people we have spoken to recognize that 2020 is still seven years away."

Istanbul is bidding for the fifth time in the last six IOC votes for the summer Olympics with Japan's Tokyo and Spanish capital Madrid also in the running. The IOC will elect the winning bid in September.

Turkey's biggest city, whose bid is called "Bridge together", has highlighted its location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe and is eager to become the first city of a majority Muslim country to land the world's biggest multi-sports event.

The city saw more fighting overnight with police in running battles with pockets of demonstrators, clearing Taksim Square which by dawn was strewn with wreckage from bulldozed barricades.

Several hundred protesters remained in an encampment of tents in nearby Gezi Park.

Erdogan, who has dismissed the demonstrators as "riff-raff", was due to meet a group of public figures to discuss the unrest, which began as a peaceful campaign against plans to build on the park abutting the square.

"This situation will have no bearing on our ability to deliver our Games concept, which was designed after consultation with environmental groups and NGOs (non-governmental organizations)," Istanbul 2020 said.

"This is a bid for the people of Turkey and we are united by our passion to bring the Games here for the first time. Istanbul 2020, and the 20-year dream of the Turkish people, will not be affected by these events."

CALM DOWN

Bid cities are due to attend a meeting of national Olympic Committees in Lausanne in Switzerland later this week with Istanbul planning to offer "assurances" there.

Bidders will also attend a key IOC meeting in Lausanne on July 3 to present their files to all members for the first time.

Like the Olympic bid, Turkey hopes the hosting of the Under-20 soccer World Cup will be unaffected by the recent protests with FIFA president Sepp Blatter saying football was a good way of uniting people.

"We have been in contact with the political authorities in Turkey since the conflict arose in the country and guarantees have been given that nothing will happen," he told reporters.

"What is more, we are sure that football can help calm down the situation because the tournament will be played in seven cities and it's a good opportunity to show that football can bring people together.

"Football connects people all over the world, can you imagine that football is being played in Syria every day, in Kabul, not to mention Iraq and Libya although a fixture had to be moved from Benghazi to Tripoli," he added.

"We shall not remove football under any circumstances."

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Mark Meadows and Sonia Oxley)

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