Rio making strong progress for 2016 Olympics: IOC

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro has made "remarkable progress" in its preparations to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday after a three-day inspection of the Brazilian city.

The IOC praised the pace of infrastructure work and a government effort to speed up plans to expand the country's overcrowded airports in time for the FIFA World Cup, which will kick off in Brazil two years before the Olympics.

"Today I am happy to say that Rio 2016 and its partners have taken those words seriously and made remarkable progress," she said.

El Moutawakel, in a statement released by Brazil's government, also highlighted the signing of an agreement for construction of the Olympic Village for athletes as a key sign of progress.

Brazil has been trying to dispel mounting concerns that the country may not be fully ready to host the World Cup or the Olympics. Delays and cost overruns are plaguing plans to build new stadiums for the World Cup, which in the case of Rio's Maracana stadium will also be used for the Olympics.

The government said last month it would form public-private consortiums to revamp three of the country's main airports as part of a broader effort to speed up preparations for the events.

In Rio, which won the fiercely fought contest in 2009 to host the Games, work is underway on three new rapid-transit bus lines that officials say are the most cost-effective way to ease congestion for the sports events and beyond.

The city has been criticized in recent months by human rights groups, who say the new highways are being used as an excuse to evict poor communities without paying them proper compensation or offering alternative housing nearby.

"This is an issue that we are obviously watching closely," El Moutawakel said.

(Reporting by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Xavier Briand)