NAIROBI: Britain's double Olympic and world champion Mo Farah makes his eagerly-awaited marathon debut in London on Sunday, but has his work cut out with the jump-in distance and competition from top Kenyans and Ethiopians.
Kenya's elite runners say they have little to fear from the newcomer to the distance, predicting a baptism of fire for Farah as he grapples with uncharted racing territory coupled with seasoned marathon veterans setting a punishing pace.
The 32-year-old 5,000 and 10,000m track star spent the better part of the winter training in Kenya's high-altitude Rift Valley region in a bid to raise his game and compete against the world's best.
Leading the elite field is Kenyan Wilson Kipsang, who holds the world record after clocking a spectacular 2:03.23 in Berlin last year and has won London in 2012. Observers of the sport see Farah as being capable of running a time of around 2:06.
"It's not going to be easy (for Farah) and he's not likely to win," Kipsang told AFP.
Farah caused a scare last month when he collapsed after the New York City Half Marathon, in which he came in second behind Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai and failed again to break the one hour mark for 21.1km (13.1 miles), something his competitors manage on a regular basis.
Mutai, who regularly trains with Kipsang, will also be racing London and will also be a fearsome competitor having won the New York marathon twice, as well as Berlin and Boston, where he clocked an unofficial world best of 2:03.02.
Still, Mutai said the Somalia-born Farah will be something of a dark horse in the pack.
"He's actually very fit and he will give us a big push in London," Mutai said, adding: "We are ready for his challenge."
Fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai, another rival who holds the London marathon course record of 2:04.40, said Farah's only hope would be if the Kenyans and Ethiopians set out at too fast a pace and hit the wall -- repeating what happened a year ago.
"I'm only hoping the runners do not try to break each other down in the fight for the lead during the early part of the race like we did last year, to our own detriment," he said.
Early pace-setting will be provided on Sunday by the legendary Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, who is under instruction to take the athletes through the first 30km at the world record pace.
The elite Ethiopian contingent is also strong: the diminutive but gritty racer Tsegaye Kebede will be there to defend his London title, sub-2:05 runners Ayele Abshero and Tsegaye Mekonnen will be in the pack while 10,000m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan will also be making his marathon debut.
At least 3,000 people were arrested in Kenya during four days of security operations across the country following a wave of terror attacks, officials said Tuesday.
Kenya police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi said most of those arrested and held at a sports stadium in the capital have been questioned by security agencies and released, but 447 suspects remain in custody under anti-terrorism laws that allow police to hold suspects longer than 24 hours. He said 69 suspects had been charged in court with various offenses.
Human rights activists have criticized the security operation, which police said was prompted by recent explosions and gun attacks that have killed at least 12 and have been blamed on Somali militant group, al-Shabab. The extremist group has vowed to carry out terror attacks in Kenya in retaliation for Kenya sending its military to Somalia to help fight insurgents.
Rights groups say only Somalis are being targeted, and they are concerned about their treatment. Police denied both allegations.
Activist al-Amin Kimathi said journalists and human rights groups are not being allowed to the stadium where the suspects are being held.
"There is no transparency, it's very opaque, there are no health facilities, and there is a lack of amenities. There is no documentation," he said.
Kimathi warned that the government operation may lead to disaffection between a sector of Kenyans and the state.
"There are fears of sectarian tensions maybe sired by this kind of approach ... Whereas government keeps saying that it's not about religion, the perception is very strong that the government is targeting ethnic Somalis and religion," he said.
Police spokesman Mwinyi denied allegations that certain communities and faiths are being targeted by police, and said the suspects are being kept in humane conditions.
Mwinyi said the aim of the operation is to detect illegal aliens, arrest and prosecute persons suspected of engaging in terrorist activities, identify places harboring criminals, and to contain and prevent general acts of crime and lawlessness
French President Francois Hollande on Monday strongly condemned the killing in central Somalia of a French and a British nationals employed by the UN to fight crime in that country.
The French leader said in a statement that the attack against the UN workers was "a cowardly assassination" of people who were "acting for peace in the name of the international community." Hollande praised the work of the UN personnel all over the world and he said France would stand by the Somali authorities in their fight against terrorism.
The two UN workers, who were active in combating drugs smuggling and related criminality, were shot Monday as they left a plane in the central town of Galkayo, several hundred kilometres from the capital, Mogadishu.
As more and more indications suggest that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the most probable candidate for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the upcoming presidential elections, debate is ongoing about how President Abdullah Gül can switch places with Erdoğan.
According to a likely scenario, the resignation of an AK Party deputy may pave the way for Gül to take over the post of prime minister.
“There are two ways before us: the Bayburt model or a by-election,” Deputy Prime Minister Emrullah İşler said on the Kanal 7 television channel on Sunday night.
The UN humanitarian agency said the planned spontaneous returns of Somali refugees mainly from Kenya is likely to be affected by the insecurity in central and southern parts of the Horn of Africa nation.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest report for Somalia that the returns will decline due to the ongoing military offensive on the militant- controlled areas in southern and central regions.
"Following the mid-March launch of a military offensive by the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to recover Al-Shabaab-controlled areas in southern and central Somalia, humanitarian agencies remain concerned about possible consequences," OCHA said in a report on Saturday.
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