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Istanbul deflects Syria fears, says Games good for region

Hasan Arat, Bid Chairman and the Vice President of the Turkish National Olympic Committee, Alp Berker (L), Director of Sport at Istanbul 202
Hasan Arat, Bid Chairman and the Vice President of the Turkish National Olympic Committee, Alp Berker (L), Director of Sport at Istanbul 202

By Alexandra Ulmer

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Istanbul's Olympic bid chief on Tuesday brushed aside fears that a potential military intervention in neighboring Syria could upset the Turkish city's hopes of staging the 2020 Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will vote on Saturday in Buenos Aires to decide whether Istanbul, Madrid or Tokyo will be awarded the world's biggest and most expensive sporting event.

But the possibility of a U.S. military strike against the Syrian government has prompted questions about whether Istanbul could be a risky choice.

"This is a global issue ... now the world leaders are dealing with it," Turkish bid chief Hasan Arat told Reuters when asked whether unrest in the region could harm the city's chances.

Istanbul is vying to be the first Muslim country to stage the Olympics and Arat said the Games would be a boon for the Middle East.

"This bid is so important for my country ... for my region," he said.

But geopolitics could weigh on Turkey, which has felt the strain of a refugee exodus from Syria's civil war.

More than 2 million refugees have fled Syria, the United Nations said earlier on Tuesday, calling the crisis "the tragedy of the century.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Alexandra Ulmer; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Ken Ferris and Robin Pomeroy)

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