US warns visitors to Sochi to stay vigilant

A Russian Cossack checks the bags of visitors to a trade centre in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, on Jan 7, 2014. The United States (US) updated its travel alert on Friday for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and specifically warned American
A Russian Cossack checks the bags of visitors to a trade centre in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, on Jan 7, 2014. The United States (US) updated its travel alert on Friday for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and specifically warned American gays about stringent new anti-gay laws. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States (US) updated its travel alert on Friday for the Sochi Winter Olympics, and specifically warned American gays about stringent new anti-gay laws.

Renewing appeals to all US citizens to "remain vigilant", the State Department said Americans "should remain attentive regarding their personal security at all times".

"Travellers to Sochi should expect increased police presence and enhanced security measures in and around the Olympic venues," the travel alert says.

While there was no "specific threat to US institutions or citizens", Americans should still "be aware of their personal surroundings and follow good security practices", the document says.

It recalls recent attacks in Russia, including three suicide bombings between October and December in the city of Volgograd that had already prompted a warning from the State Department for all travellers to be careful.

"US citizens are urged to remain vigilant and exercise good judgement and discretion when using any form of public transportation," the alert adds, advising visitors to tell family and friends about any travel plans.

It also warns about a controversial law banning "propaganda of homosexuality" to minors, which has led some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists calling for a boycott of the Games opening next month.

"The law makes it a crime to promote LGBT equality in public, but lacks concrete legal definitions for key terms," the State Department said, adding it was believed to apply to both Russians and foreigners visiting the country.

Foreigners found guilty of breaking the law could face fines of up to 100,000 roubles (S$3,924) as well as up to 14 days in jail and deportation.

Concern was also voiced about the standards of medical care available in the region, with sports fans urged to buy private medical insurance evacuation and repatriation plans.

"The Olympics are the first large-scale event to be held in Sochi and medical capacity and infrastructure in the region are untested for handling the volume of visitors expected for the Olympics," the travel alert adds.

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