Friday, June 20, 2008

China creates anti-terror squad

China has created a special 100,000 anti-terrorist force for the Olympics, reinforcing the impression that the Games will be dominated by tough security measures

Restrictions on Chinese and foreigners in Beijing are mounting as the Olympic torch begins the second half of its trip round Chinato Beijing.

Tomorrow it is in Tibet, where the police are expected to be out in force and the route and date were kept secret until the last minute to prevent disruption by protesters.

The authorities gave away few details of the "anti-terror squad", but they have already said that fears over terrorism are their prime concern for the Games.

They said that an elite commando unit, known as "Snow Wolf", had been practising anti-terror drills.

The anti-terror squad will be backed up by a 400,000 city volunteers – the neighbourhood committees who are the ears and eyes of the Party and the police in residential streets and compounds – and a million "social volunteers. These include the regular army of bus stop assistants and pedestrian crossing monitors.

"As the Olympics are approaching, officials and the public must understand the importance of security and social stability," Liu Qi, the president of the Beijing Olympics Committee and Communist Party secretary for the city, said on the Games' official website.

The authorities' use of the word "terrorism" is open to interpretation. Ronald Noble, secretary general of Interpol, says there is a theoretical risk of an al-Qa'eda attack during the Games, but crime analysts say the main concern of the authorities seems to be "internal".

Chinese police claim to have cracked a number of plots by groups fighting for independence for Xinjiang, a Muslim ethnic minority area in the west of the country. But they often do not distinguish between those who pursue autonomy there and in Tibet peacefully and those who advocate using violence.

The security measures taken so far range from restrictions on issuing business visas to foreigners to a decision announced yesterday by the municipal government in Shanghai that all swimming pools would start checking shampoo and other washing materials brought into changing rooms.

Shampoo would be opened and smelled by guards to make sure it wasn't explosive, it said. Shanghai will be host for some Olympic football games.

Beijing also gave the long-awaited details of its plans to cut down on traffic to ease the city's pollution problem. As expected, cars will be told to drive on alternate days, depending on their licence plate, but the period the regulation will be in force is longer than expected – from July 20 to September 20.

Most vehicles from outside Beijing will be banned from coming into the city at all.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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