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EYES ON LONDON: Branded London and a hoops visit

Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:

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MORE ON THAT ALERT

People are being let back into the mall. No word yet on what triggered the alarm or what led authorities to declare the area safe again.

— Diana Ingram

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SECURITY ALERT

AP staff at Westfield Mall, just outside Olympic Park and its security perimeter, say everyone has been told to vacate the mall. An alarm is sounding.

People are gathering outside and being forbidden to go back in.

— Diana Ingram

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TICKETS, ANYONE?

The line to pick up event tickets at the City of Westminster College will-call is snaking through the campus Thursday with fans anxious to get their hands on the prized item. Among them: Michael Perkowski, a contractor for the U.S. military who drove directly to get his tickets after his plane touched down from Afghanistan.

Perkowski says his ticket-buying odyssey began 18 months ago when he was working for the Army in Iraq. He went through the early bidding process and finally scored tickets to three of his 24 choices within the last few months.

Now in Afghanistan working with the U.S. Marine Corps, he says he was coming to the Games regardless of what tickets he landed.

"I don't take too many vacations, so I was doing this no matter what," he says. "We took that long flight, drove forever to come straight here but I don't care. It's all worth it."

Get a glimpse here. http://img.ly/lfxS

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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BRANDED LONDON

London looks different.

You can't walk for more than five minutes through central London without seeing some sign of the Olympics. The words "Camden" or "Kensington and Chelsea" on Olympic banners hang from lampposts at regular intervals in those London boroughs. Take a turn down a side street and you can find a park railing with a new poster depicting cycling imagery running the length of it.

The main action might be in the Olympic Park, but the Olympics is evident everywhere.

— Fergus Bell — Twitter http://twitter.com/fergb

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ON ACCESS

AP's Tom Withers reports in from the basketball venue:

Act as if you own the place. That mantra has always served me well, and with those words in mind, I strolled inside the Olympic basketball venue, which wasn't fully open on Wednesday.

As technicians busily dragged cables around the outside of the temporary 12,000-seat structure, where the preliminary rounds are being played, I coolly walked in and watched a few minutes of the Angola women's team practice.

The unique building, erected in just three months, is covered in a white stretch material that will be used for light projections during the games. Its architectural style is similar to the Water Cube swimming complex in Beijing.

Feeling a bit guilty after my self-guided mini tour, I confessed to one of the media leaders that I had already been inside. He didn't seem to mind. "Cheers," he said.

— Tom Withers — Twitter http://twitter.com/twithersAP

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OLYMPIC LOVE

Captain Mark Phillips, Princess Anne's former husband, has spoken of his new relationship with a woman almost 30 years his junior.

The 63-year-old, a top coach for the U.S. equestrian team, separated from his second wife, Sandy, and began divorce proceedings earlier this year after falling for fellow equestrian Lauren Hough, 35.

Phillips, whose daughter Zara is competing in Team GB's equestrian events, has faced criticism and calls for his resignation over his affair with Hough, who is also a member of the American team's coaching staff.

After the Olympics, he will leave his job. But he says it's not because of criticism in the United States.

He told Country Life magazine: "I don't read chatrooms and all that rubbish as it's mostly uninformed and unidentified opinion, which won't change my life.

He's clear about one thing: "I'm not out to win a popularity contest."

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CAMERON ON THE FLAG FLAP

"This was an honest mistake, honestly made, an apology has been made and I'm sure every step will be taken to make sure these things don't happen again. We shouldn't overinflate this episode. It was unfortunate, it shouldn't have happened and I think we can leave it at that." — British Prime Minister David Cameron, on the mistake made Wednesday night when a South Korean flag was displayed alongside a North Korean player's picture on a scoreboard before a soccer game.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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COOL CUSTOMER

"We have no air conditioning, but it's OK, because in France we are used to having no air conditioning. So we are not lost." — French swimmer Hughes Dubosc, at an appearance with his sponsor.

— Andrew Dampf — Twitter http://twitter.com/andrewdampfap

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GRIDLOCK — LESSON LEARNED

AP's Fergus Bell, a Londoner, reports in from the crowded streets of his city:

I took a taxi journey into central London. I usually take the train or Tube because I think they are faster when there are no known problems on the line. Today, with a couple of bags in tow, I had no choice.

It should have taken me 32 minutes, according to a quick online route search.

It didn't.

OK, I knew that figure was a bit optimistic. But I wasn't expecting the driver — who knows the roads very well — to get confused by all the new Olympic lanes, end up going a very different route from the one he was expecting. I ended up in the back seat acting as navigator with maps pulled up on my tablet checking which roads were clear.

The result: after 1 1/2 hours in the car and still the wrong side of central London I abandoned the driver to his fate. Bags and all, I jumped out at an underground station and took a delightfully smooth 12-minute journey to my destination and learned a lesson: Stick to what you know and trust your instincts.

— Fergus Bell — Twitter http://twitter.com/fergb

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PICTURE PERFECT

With one day to go before the opening ceremony, no detail is being left untouched. Or unpainted.

A board was put up Wednesday to hide some unsightly gray scaffolding in front of the press seats at the gymnastics venue. On Thursday, a worker was painting the board purple so it would blend in with the rest of the signage.

— Nancy Armour — Twitter http://twitter.com/nrarmour

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CAMERON ON THE OPENING CEREMONY

"I'd have thought the difficulty is, how do you cram in all that's great about our country?"

He says viewers will find moments of it "spine-tingling" and said he's been moved by the parts he's seen.

The ceremony, directed by Danny Boyle, is expected to take a global audience on an intensely visual, occasionally whimsical tour through Britain's history.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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ONE FOR THE BOOKS

— "This is the biggest security operation in a peacetime history, bar none." — British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking at Olympic Park.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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FROM THE PRIME MINISTER

— "Our absolute top priority must be to keep people safe." — British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has just spoken at Olympic Park about the upcoming games. Here are a few more quick bites of what he had to say:

— "We are delivering a world-class games, a well-connected games."

— "Our intelligence services are working around the clock."

— "We want these to be the games that lift up the city, lift up the country."

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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GELDOF'S GRUMBLINGS

Not everyone in London is looking forward to the Olympics.

Bob Geldof, the former Boomtown Rats frontman and "Live Aid" charity fund-raiser, confirmed his contrarian reputation when asked at a reception for boxing legend Muhammad Ali if he was excited about the games.

"Nope."

No sport he was excited about?

"The egg and spoon race."

But, Geldof conceded, the games have at least brought much-needed regeneration to a post-industrial swath of east London — transformed from gritty to green by the 500-acre (200-hectare) Olympic Park.

"That was a pretty crap part of town, no matter what anyone says," Geldof said. "Now it's nice."

— Jill Lawless — Twitter http://twitter.com/JillLawless

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A SPANISH OLYMPICS?

As the debt-ridden Spanish government hovers on the brink of needing a sovereign bailout, the country is continuing to pursue a bid for the 2020 Olympics. Spanish sports secretary Miguel Cardenal maintains that Madrid winning the Olympics after two failed bids would help the country's economic recovery.

"The Spanish state is calling for its citizens to tighten its belts to accept the need for a degree of sacrifice and the measures are certainly painful," Cardenal said in London. "But we would nevertheless pursue this project," he said, saying that "this is something that will boost our aspirations to have a sustainable economy."

Bidding again, Cardenal insists Madrid will only spend where "absolutely necessary," but pointed out that much of the infrastructure is already in place.

"All of us will have to be very careful indeed in the way we use public funds," Madrid mayor Ana Botella added.

Missing out on the London Games, which start on Friday, appears to have been good fortune for a Spanish government struggling to keep a handle on its debts. Now there's time for a recovery in the Spanish economy long before 2020.

Madrid is competing against Istanbul and Tokyo. The host of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Games will be announced on Sept. 7, 2013 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

— Rob Harris — Twitter http://twitter.com/robharris

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TUBE TRAVEL

British Olympic Association chairman Colin Moynihan is avoiding official cars at the London Olympics and taking the "Tube" from his hotel in the central part of the city to the Olympic site at Stratford.

Moynihan said he made it along the Jubilee subway line to Stratford in 45 minutes Thursday. He also gets a chance to meet and greet fellow travelers and even took the opportunity to ask a journalist traveling near him some questions about how things were going at the main games site.

"I think others who are staying at official hotels in the city would do well to consider public transport," Moynihan says. "It's clearly the best way to go."

— Dennis Passa — Twitter http://twitter.com/dennispassa

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WHAT RHYMES WITH 'LONDON'?

AP's Fred Lief in London, surrounded by the approaching Olympics and its attendant pageantry, was inspired to verse:

Well, look at this — the sun is out

As traffic tries to move about.

Olympic lanes are out in force

While Londoners (now pushed off course)

Want nothing more than one smooth ride

And not deal with a Tube that's tied.

The cost of this for seven years?

Perhaps not blood but sweat and tears.

And always up pops one more snag —

Consider North Korea's flag.

So keep in mind when all else fails:

These games, in fact, began in Wales.

— Fred Lief — Twitter http://twitter.com/fredlief

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THE TORCH APPROACHES ...

Preparations are still under way all around Buckingham Palace for Thursday evening's arrival of the Olympic torch.

Barricades surround the palace and outline the route the torch will travel. The plan is for the runner to enter the gates and hand off to another runner, who will head to Hyde Park.

Guards from the contracted Security Response firm say they've been in place since 1 a.m. and will direct pedestrians until 10 p.m. The streets will be closed at 5 pm in anticipation of the arrival.

There was rehearsal on The Mall, where the theme from "Chariots of Fire" was pumping out of speakers and an announcer was practicing his introduction of Thursday night's runner.

There's still a lot of work to be done, though; most of the flag posts closest to the palace do not yet have their flags.

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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WANNA BET?

High stakes between Britain and Australia this Olympics.

Britain's Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson and his Australian counterpart, Sports Minister Kate Lundy, have a side bet on which country will win the most gold medals at the Olympics.

If Britain wins the most golds, former rower Lundy will pilot a scull along the Olympic course at Eton Dorney, dressed in Team Great Britain colors.

If the Australian Olympic team wins more, Robertson has promised to wear an Australian field hockey uniform and dribble a ball around Australia House, the country's official government residence in London.

— Dennis Passa — Twitter http://twitter.com/dennispassa

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ARRIVAL OBSERVATIONS

AP Dublin's Shawn Pogatchnik reports in on his trip to an increasingly crowded London:

Traveling into London from Dublin, 400 miles (600 kilometers) or so across the Irish Sea, I can't tell if my travel glass is half full or half empty.

Yes, I've been subject to myriad delays. But I've experienced unexpected and impressive efficiency, too, from the extra staff at every link in the chain.

I've flown Dublin-London routes for 25 years. I've just experienced these firsts:

— The first-ever announcement on a British train that didn't sound like it was being piped in live from Atlantis. Clear, crisp, friendly voice. A bizarre moment.

— An unprecedented display of signs at airport and train stations, all in that London Olympic hot pink. It's going be impossible to get lost in central London.

— My first clean London escalator. They usually look and sound like they haven't been cleaned or oiled since the Blitz. But coming up to the surface at Victoria, I'm dazzled by the gleaming, obviously scoured stainless steel on the steps and walls. Not a blemish of gum or graffiti in sight.

London is looking cleaner and better than ever, dating to my first time living here in 1988.

— Shawn Pogatchnik — Twitter http://twitter.com/ShawnPogatchnik

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QUICK CHANGE

There's plenty of activity going on in Green Park near Buckingham Palace, where the Olympic torch is scheduled to pass later Thursday. But it was still a surprise to see a gorgeous model attempting an outfit change in the middle of the park.

Cloaked in a blanket held by a stylist, the 6-foot stunner slipped into a green dress, then followed directions from a photographer to run barefoot through the park. Get a glimpse here: http://bit.ly/Q9WUBU

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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TORCH TALK

Big day for the Olympic torch.

It visits multiple tourist attractions, meets Princes William and Harry, goes to Buckingham Palace and on and on.

It's like Tour de Britain.

— Danica Kirka — http://twitter.com/danicakirka

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SARAJEVO SYMBOLISM

The secretary general of the United Nations took a symbolic run through he former Olympic city of Sarajevo before he comes to London to carry the Olympic torch toward the 2012 games.

Ban Ki-moon carried a torch Thursday morning in the Olympic Stadium in Sarajevo, home to the 1984 Winter Olympics — and years of war and hard times afterward. Ban ran alongside Sarajevo's marathon runner Islam Djugum, who even during Bosnia's 1992-95 war trained daily — but only after dark, to avoid snipers.

Ban said he saw in Sarajevo a city that has risen from ashes and ruins and is now pulsing with "real life."

— Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo — Twitter http://twitter.com/aidacerkez

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WRONG FLAG

It didn't seem to get in the way of the soccer — for the North Koreans, at least.

North Korea's women's soccer team defeated Colombia 2-0 after the match was delayed for more than an hour over the diciest of diplomatic miscues: the mistaken display, by London Olympic organizers, of the South Korean flag instead of the North Korean one on a jumbo screen overlooking the field.

"If this matter couldn't have been resolved, then I thought going on is nonsense," coach Sin Ui Gun said through an interpreter after the game is Glasgow, Scotland. "We were angry because our players were introduced as if they were from South Korea, which may affect us very greatly as you might know."

Mea culpa, said the London Olympic operation, saying "steps will be taken to ensure this does not happen again."

North Korea and South Korea are bitter rivals who remain technically at war six decades after the 1950-53 Korean war, which ended in a truce.

— Frank Griffiths — Twitter http://twitter.com/fgriffithsap

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LATE-NIGHT FIREWORKS

It was a midnight Olympic light show — unexpected and free — for residents of London's Stratford section.

A technical rehearsal for the opening ceremony wrapped up past midnight with two full minutes of fireworks early Thursday over Olympic Stadium, a spectacular (if loud) treat for the neighborhood that adjoins Olympic Park. On Stratford's High Street, people making their way home stopped, looked up and oohed and ahhed.

Will it offset the expected gridlock they're girding for in their community? Maybe not. But it was a nice late-night gift for those out and about at the late hour.

— Ted Anthony — Twitter http://twitter.com/anthonyted

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FIRE AND EMOTION

The most striking thing about the Olympic torch relay is just how touching it is.

Hundreds of people, many families with young children, got up early Thursday to see the torch as it left the north London district of Camden at 6:50 a.m. The good-natured crowd defied security guards' efforts to corral them behind barriers, mobbing the former English rugby star who was the first torchbearer of the day.

Forget the celebrities and the sports stars and the local heroes carrying the torch. The crowd itself was the star.

It was Day 69 of a 70-day journey across the country that culminates in Friday's opening ceremony. It made me wish I still had a 4-year-old I could pop on my shoulders and say, "Look, Kelly — there's the torch!" Hundreds of family memories were made today.

— Sheila Norman-Culp — Twitter http://twitter.com/snormanculp

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RISE, SHINE

Up and at it early, and it's easy for an American to be fresh at this hour. Why? Because most pubs in London close between 11 p.m. and midnight — far earlier than we're used to back in the U.S.

That's old news to the locals, but a bit of a bummer to visitors who are just getting warmed up at that hour.

But maybe it's a blessing. With the Olympic torch hitting central London on Thursday and due to pass many landmarks, navigating is going to be tricky and probably best done without a pounding headache.

— Jenna Fryer — Twitter http://twitter.com/jennafryer

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EDITOR'S NOTE — "Eyes on London" shows you the Olympics through the eyes of Associated Press journalists across the 2012 Olympic city and around the world. Follow them on Twitter where available with the handles listed after each item, and get even more AP updates from the Games here: http://twitter.com/AP_Sports