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President Bush sends taped video message

SINGAPORE --The five cities bidding for the 2012 Olympics
made their final pitches Wednesday with messages of support from
presidents, prime ministers and sports celebrities.

Paris, New York, Moscow, London and Madrid were giving 45-minute
presentations to the International Olympic Committee, which votes
later in the day to determine the winner of the most glamorous and
hotly contested bid race in Olympic history.

Paris went in as the perceived favorite and London a strong
challenger. New York and Madrid would be surprise winners, while
Moscow was a long shot.

But IOC members said the race remains tight, wide open and
impossible to call. Much could depend on the impact of the
presentations and the vagaries of the round-by-round secret voting
procedure.

Longtime favorite Paris, led by President Jacques Chirac, went
first and said it had learned from past defeats and come up with
the right formula to bring the games back to the French capital for
the first time since 1924.

"France is intent on offering the world unforgettable Olympic
and Paralympic Games," Chirac told the delegates. "The heart of
Paris and the heart of France are beating in unison in the hope of
becoming Olympic host in 2012.

"You can put your trust and faith in France, you can trust the
French, you can trust us."

Upset hopeful New York made its case for taking the games to the
Big Apple for the first time, with a star studded delegation --
including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Muhammad Ali and a taped
message from President George W. Bush -- citing the city's long
tradition of welcoming the world.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg cited the city's resilience in
recovering from the Sept. 11 attacks, saying, "That spirit will be
given to your games."

"Our city needs these games in 2012," he said. "When I became
mayor four years ago, New York was shaken. We didn't know what our
future would be.

"In our city's darkest hour, we asked ourselves, can we
recover?" he said. "New Yorkers stood up then and said, 'Yes, we
can recover, we will rebuild and we must continue to welcome
everyone. That spirit will be given to your Games."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in English publicly
for the first time, appeared in a video message appealing to the
IOC to make a "unique and historic" decision by giving the games
to Moscow.

"As the president of Russia, I am convinced that our hopes for
success in bidding for Olympics 2012 are absolutely justified,
reasonable and realistic," he said.

Moscow's bid, however, has been undermined by security worries
after terrorist attacks connected to the conflict in the Russian
province of Chechnya. Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basayev warned
on Tuesday in a statement posted on a separatist Web site that
athletes would not be safe if Moscow hosted the 2012 Olympics.

London and Madrid were making presentations later.

Paris is bidding for the third time in 20 years after defeats
for the 1992 and 2008 Olympics -- and the IOC tends to reward
persistence. The French capital has a ready-to-go Olympic stadium
in the Stade de France and embraces the IOC's blueprint for
controlling the size and cost of the games.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said the city had learned from its
failed bids for the 1992 and 2008 games.

"Each experience has taught us something and each
disappointment has only served to reinforce our determination," he
said. "We have always endeavored to improve our performance."

Delanoe said Paris had "totally taken account" the IOC's
recommendations for downsizing the Olympics, giving developing
countries and smaller cities a chance of hosting the games in the
future.

"In effect we have conceived games which are not wasteful or
disproportionate but rather games based on efficiency and values,"
he said.

The Paris presentation featured a slick video directed by film
director Luc Besson. It began with a bird's eye view of the city,
with the camera floating over famous landmarks and the five Olympic
rings sweeping up the Champs Elysees and encircling the Eiffel
Tower.

The film continued with members of the bid team running through
the venues, transportation plans and other technical elements; a
greeting by French actress Catherine Deneuve; and evocative scenes
of the city's streetside cafes, museums, opera houses and hotels.

New York played up its multiethnic and multicultural aspect,
beginning with a film featuring an array of residents praising the
city in different foreign accents, and finishing with footage of
Olympic torch bearers running through the streets to the musical
strains of "New York, New York."

Ali, who arrived Tuesday to boost the bid, received a loud
ovation when he was introduced at the presentation. Ali, who has
Parkinson's disease, struggled to stand up, nearly falling over
before catching himself.

President Bush, who unlike rival government leaders did not
travel to Singapore, offered support in a taped video message.

"Our commitment is total, whether it is security or visas,"
Bush said. "The United States government will be ready to do what
it takes to work with you."

Former President Bill Clinton also appeared on video, while his
wife was one of the featured live speakers at the Singapore
presentation.

"Today we are ready to finally bring the Olympic movement and
New York together for the first time," Hillary Rodham Clinton
said.

Bloomberg touched on the New York's 11th-hour switch in stadium
plans. The bid looked in deep trouble last month when state
officials rejected a proposed stadium in Manhattan, but New York
quickly came up with a revised stadium plan in Queens.

"We are going ahead, we are building this stadium," the mayor
said. "It's going ahead because New Yorkers never give up, not
now, not ever."

Bloomberg stressed that unions had signed no-strike guarantees
and that "every venue will be completed on time and on budget."

Bloomberg sought to dismiss any notion that New York should
focus on a possible 2016 bid, stressing that crucial deals for land
and funding were only guaranteed for this candidacy.

"2012 is the only time to bring the games to New York City,"
he said.

After the presentation, Syria's IOC member asked whether
athletes from countries which the U.S. government considers
sponsors of terrorism would be assured access to New York for the
Olympics.

"Absolutely, without question," bid leader Dan Doctoroff said,
adding that New York is committed "to allow every single athlete,
every single coach, every single athletes into our city."

The New York team was also asked about poll figures in an IOC
report showing low level of public support for the bid. Bloomberg
stressed the poll was conducted during the height of the stadium
controversy, adding, "We have a history of debate, we love arguing
about everything, but in the end we get together."