Atlanta shakes its fist at terror

Olympic bombing: Republicans say they will relax opposition to tough new laws on arms
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The Independent Online
Three days after a bomb threatened the Olympics, Atlanta plans to "take back the Games from the terrorists" today by reopening Centennial Park, the site of the blast lying in the heart of the city.

For the first time since the bombing at 1.30am on Saturday, thousands are expected to return this morning for a memorial and prayer service for the bomb's victims, led by the Rev Andrew Young, a former mayor of Atlanta, former ambassador to the UN and a leading member of the Olympics organising committee.

As the Games continued yesterday, President Bill Clinton was holding a summit on terrorism with the head of the FBI and the leaders in Congress of both political parties.

Angered by the Atlanta bombing and the likelihood that the TWA plane was blown up, Mr Clinton is pressing for tougher laws against terrorism.

These may include tapping the phones of suspects, greater military assistance to law- enforcement agencies and obliging explosives manufacturers to give their products identifiable chemical markings, which would make it easier to trace the bombers.

The Republican speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, has indicated that his party might drop its opposition to Mr Clinton's suggestions, which were first made after last year's Oklahoma City bombing. Gun rights advocates and civil liberties groups then attacked the ideas as a threat to the rights of individuals.

Adding to the urgency of the White House summit was the question of security at the impending party conventions next month in San Diego and Chicago, in the run-up to the November presidential elections.

Today's reopening of Centennial Park, which is a paved, open-air, cultural, leisure and exhibition centre, is expected to be a symbolic moment for the residents of Atlanta.

The park, built for the Olympics in a deserted, run-down area, was the focal point for the Games' non-sporting activity, with free nightly concerts that ran into the small hours. It is paved with "sponsored" bricks, bearing the names of the people around the world who paid for them.

Bob Brennan, spokesman for the Atlanta organisers of the Games, urged the public to defy terrorism, including threats from "copycats out there who're finding great fun in disrupting the Games as much as they can", by flocking to the re-opening. "We are determined to defy cowardice," he said, adding that he could not confirm reports that some Olympics teams were leaving Atlanta early because of the bombing.

Mr Brennan said the bombing had taught valuable lessons to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and to the special observer delegations from Sydney, which will host the Games in the year 2,000, and the cities which are bidding for the 2,004 event. There has been speculation here that some of these cities may drop their bids after seeing the psychological damage done to Atlanta.

Today's memorial service and the reopening of the park promises to be among the most emotional events here since the civil rights sermons of Martin Luther King. To many residents, the re-opening of their beloved "park" is being billed as more significant than last week's opening of the Games.

Atlantans have compared the scars of the bombing and their recovery to the way the city rose from the ashes of the Civil War in the mid-19th century.

The focus of the memorial service will be 44-year-old ice cream parlour owner Alice Hawthorne, the only person who was killed by the pipe bomb. A Turkish TV cameraman also died from a heart attack while rushing to the scene and more than 100 people were wounded, a dozen seriously.

Mrs Hawthorne's widower, John, has criticised Olympics officials for minimising the loss of his wife. "No-one bothered to even call me up to give their condolences," he said. While he was out making funeral arrangements on Sunday, burglars broke into his home and stole his television set and video recorder, police said.