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U.S. cautions on travel to Sochi Olympics

5:24 PM, Jan 10, 2014   |    comments
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Michael Winter
USA Today

The State Department issued a travelers' alert Friday for the Sochi Olympics, offering standard security tips while traveling and cautioning about medical facilities and Russia-related terrorism concerns in Georgia.

Americans attending the Games "should remain alert regarding their personal security at all times" and "remain vigilant and exercise good judgment and discretion when using any form of public transportation," the advisory urged.

Noting that the Olympics are the "first large-scale event to be held in Sochi," the U.S. government said, "Medical capacity and infrastructure in the region are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics," and medical care in many Russian localities "differs substantially from Western standards due to differing practices and approaches to primary care."

Travelers were advised to consider "purchasing private medical evacuation and/or repatriation insurance."

Noting recent terror attacks in the Russian Federation, the advisory pointed out that the Games "present an attractive target for terrorists."

The Caucasus Emirate has indicated it may target the Olympics. The militant Sufi nationalist group, formed in 2007, has already attacked a ski resort, trains, an airport and a theater.

The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation has said 100,000 security personnel would be on duty at the Games and around Sochi.

"Russian authorities have indicated that they are taking appropriate security measures in Sochi in light of this," the State Department said. "Acts of terrorism, including bombings and hostage takings, continue to occur in Russia, particularly in the North Caucasus region. There is no indication of a specific threat to U.S. institutions or citizens, but U.S. citizens should be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices."

Friday's advisory also reminded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers that Russia has banned "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors and that the law applies to foreigners, even though the authorities have not clearly defined what constitutes "propaganda."

But elsewhere the State Department writes that LGBT individuals "are protected by anti-discrimination laws in Georgia, and there are no legal impediments to the organization of LGBT events. However, traditional cultural attitudes result in LGBT individuals often facing de-facto discrimination and harassment by state and private actors."

More information is available on the State Department's LGBT Travel Information site.

Beyond Olympic- and Georgia-specific concerns, the State Department also reiterated basic tourist-awareness tips regarding theft, muggings, taxis, lodging, credit cards and documents. As is standard for much travel abroad, the State Department recommended signing up for its Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, in addition to sharing itineraries with family, friends and co-workers.

The State Department offers more detailed information and recommendations on its Georgia site.

All travelers to Georgia should "regularly monitor emergency messages on the U.S. Embassy's website for the latest information on the security situation throughout Georgia. In the case of a crisis and/or natural disaster, U.S. citizens in Tbilisi may tune in to FM radio stations for any updated U.S. Embassy emergency message for U.S. citizens."

USA Today

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