By Ryan Villareal
International Business Times

As Brazil prepares to host two of the world's largest public sporting spectacles, the Olympics and the World Cup, thousands of people living in poor urban areas are facing forced evictions or have already been displaced by development projects.

Slums sitting upon highly valued real estate throughout several Brazilian cities are being torn down to make way for stadiums, highways and hotels, while the local residents are pushed to the outskirts, often far away from their places of business, civic institutions and public services.

Public officials and private developers have hailed the country's push to prepare for the global sporting events as an opportunity to modernize and integrate underdeveloped areas, but residents of the affected communities and human rights groups have questioned the legality of their removal without taking into concern their rights and livelihoods.

"Hosting the Olympics should be a cause for celebration, not fear," Yvette J. Alberdingk Thijm, executive director of international human rights group Witness, said in a statement.

"Forced evictions undermine the mission and spirit of the games. We call on government officials to immediately put a stop to the practice of forced evictions."

Roughly 170,000 Brazilians throughout the country are facing or have already been subjected to forced evictions, according to Witness. Thirty thousand people are being affected just in Rio, which will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well as several of the 2014 World Cup matches.

"Forced evictions in Rio violate existing legislation at the municipal, state, federal and international levels," Witness said.

"The Brazilian Federal Constitution establishes housing as a basic right and Rio de Janeiro's State Constitution and Municipal City Code establish that publicly owned lands should be destined to social interest housing."

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City officials, citing the urgency of developing infrastructure for the upcoming games, have dispensed with legal statutes protecting residents against forced evictions.

In the process, large no-bid contracts have been handed out to developers amidst allegations of corruption. In some cases, a written contract between the city and private firms does not even exist, as in the case with the $30 million dollar Olympic golf course project.

Even before the venues for the Olympics or the World Cup were announced, private developers have long sought to capitalize on Rio's valuable real estate, only waiting for the obstacle of the area's pre-existing poor communities to be removed.

"This is a pattern we've seen again and again, the recurring violation of people's right to housing," said Priscila Neri, Witness program coordinator in the U.S. "We saw it in Beijing with the (2008) Olympics, and we saw it in South Africa with the (2010) World Cup."

"No one is saying that there shouldn't be an Olympic Games -- it's a great source of national pride," Neri added. "But it must be done without anyone's rights being violated."

Witness is petitioning city officials for an alternate development plan, one that includes affordable public housing projects for residents that lets them stay in their communities.

"The proposal calls for urbanization instead of eviction, and proves, with compelling evidence, that it is cost-effective and better for the community to stay where it is," read a witness statement.

Private developers, of course, would argue that every square foot that is not being developed is lost profit, and, indeed, it goes back to the argument of what value is created by investing in communities that have been there for generations.

"These are people who are already vulnerable in society and cannot easily defend their rights," Neri said. "The golden rule is that the community life should be improved, it cannot be made worse."

-- To report problems or to leave feedback about this article, email Ryan Villarreal.

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Every four Januaries, the Iowa caucuses lure the political media to the heartland. Since 1972, the state has provided Americans with their first taste of the direction each political party may be heading in choosing a presidential candidate.

In 2012, Iowa was not satisfied with only being a primaries predictor. Now Iowa electors got their first glimpse of where their votes may be heading.

Politics got taken out to the ballpark.

The Quad Cities River Bandits, a Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, held Presidential Bobblehead Night at Modern Woodman Park in Davenport, Iowa. The giveaway featured both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney bobbleheads, but spectators did not get both dolls.

At the stadium's entrance, fans who chose to enter from the left side were given an Obama bobblehead, while fans who entered from the right, received a Romney doll. Using the amount of bobbleheads given away on each side, the River Bandits could determine which political party the game's audience was leaning.

According to WQAD-TV, the current president's bobblehead was more popular than Governor Romney's doll.

"It looks like Barack Obama is strongly winning on the bobblehead front,” said Bandits' General Manager Stephanie Brown. The River Bandits directed a mock bobblehead poll four years ago with Obama defeating 2008 Republican candidate John McCain in giveaways.

On Election Day 2012, Iowa may come down to a narrower margin than Modern Woodman Park's sample size predicted. A recent poll on claims Obama leads Romney by just one percent, 45.3 percent to 44.3 percent, in the state of Iowa.

In the 2008 election, Obama won 53.9 percent of the vote to McCain's 44.4 percent, giving the president-elect all seven of Iowa's electors.

The River Bandits lost the actual game, 4-3, to the Burlington Bees, a Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. Future giveaway nights include Water Bottle Giveaway night, Jason Motte Gnome Night and Replica World Series Championship Ring Night.

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Obviously the Olympics were the big attraction this summer, but no visit to London is complete without a peek at the Changing of the Guard:


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It started with a dream.

Two decades ago, Dutch businessman Johan Huibers dreamt that the Netherlands was being flooded by the North Sea. The next day, he bought a book about Noah's arc, and soon thereafter resolved to build a replica of the ship. Finally, some four years after construction began, Huibers' dream has become a reality. A life-size model of Noah's arc now sits docked on the Merwede River in the Dutch town of Dordrecht, about 50 miles south of Amsterdamn.

Huibers used cubits, the dimensions laid out in the Book of Genesis, to construct the arc. The cubit is defined as the distance from a man's elbow to his fingertips, and for that Huibers used his own arm. Huibers' arc measured 300 cubits long (450 feet), 50 cubits wide (70 feet) and 30 cubits high (45 feet).

Check it out:

Originally, Huibers wanted to sail the boat to London for the opening of the Olympic games, but safety concerns interfered with those plans. For the time being, the boat will be a floating museum, with live-size plastic animals scattered throughout.

Citing the Mayans' prophecy that the world may end later this year, Huibers' daughter says numerous people have contacted them regarding reserving space on the arc.

"But of course we tell them, the real safety is not here," Deborah Venema-Huibers said. "This is not a rescue boat. It's a museum."

-- Follow Robbie Levin on Twitter @RobbieLevin.

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