Monday, August 31, 2009

Beijing in "lockdown" ahead of National Day

The centre of Beijing was under a virtual lockdown over the weekend as tens of thousands of people rehearsed for a huge parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. From around 20:00 on Friday traffic was halted along the Avenue of Eternal Peace, the main thoroughfare running through Beijing. And pedestrian access to many streets surrounding Tiananmen Square was barred as the square itself filled with participants of the National Day parade.
The security blanket remained in place until Sunday with cordons and police manning checkpoints around the square. The aim, apart from disrupting traffic, was to keep a veil of secrecy around the October 1st celebrations. Some details have leaked out however. The pageant will include more tan 200,000 participants, including members of the People's Liberation Army, who will march through Beijing in a little of a month's time. The parade will showcase the latest military hardware, and fighter jets will pass overhead. Dozens of floats will also head along the main streets of Beijing as mosaics of Chinese characters will be held aloft by hundreds of schoolchildren in te square itself. One teenager told the Times of London that it took 16,000 pupils holding up cards just to make the first of the two characters for "country". According to Wikileaks other statements will read "Long live the Communist Party of China", "Rejuvenate our country through science and education" and "Tomorrow will be better".
Security is already being tightened across China, with tens of thousands of extra police on duty and additional checks across the Beijing underground system. X-ray machines are sited at all subway stations and in major venues and there is a sharply increased visible police presence across the cit. Checkpoints around the capital have been reactivated for the first time since last year's Olympics and more than 80,000 residents have been recruited for a two-month crime-watch campaign to ensure nothing goes wrong on the big day. Even AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] style aircraft have been spotted in the skies over the capital.
Over the weekend there were dozens of highly visible armed police units in addition to the regular police and security near Tiananmen Square. And security surrounding the square itself was extremely tight with military and police guarding all access points.
Xinhua reported the first round of rehearsals, there will be more, as success. Only state media were allowed access to the area and there were a few pictures shown on the state news broadcaster CCTV. For members of the public there was little to see other than empty streets surrounding the city centre, and a few search lights lighting up the sky on Sunday evening.
Apart from the fireworks which may well be seen several blocks away, few ordinary citizens are likely to get a close up view of the parade on the actual day. One Beijinger told tvnewswatch, "the best place to view it will be in your living room on your TV." Much like the Olympics this will be an invitation and ticket only 'made for television' event.

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