June 19, 2008 / 11:09 AM / 9 years ago

Olympics-Beijing says anti-terrorist force already on alert

By Nick Mulvenney

BEIJING, June 19 (Reuters) - Beijing announced on Thursday that a special force nearly 100,000 strong was already on alert for terrorists, reinforcing the impression security will dominate the last 50 days of preparations for the Olympics.

With the venues completed and the 42 Olympic test events wrapped up, Beijing organiser-in-chief Liu Qi put security firmly at the top of the agenda in a speech this week reported on the official Games website.

"As the Olympics are approaching, officials and the public must understand the importance of security and social stability for the Olympics," he said.

China has said terrorism is the biggest threat to the Games. It claims to have uncovered bomb plots and plans to kidnap athletes involving militants from the Uighur muslim minority in the far Western region of Xinjiang.

Rights activists accuse China of using terrorism as an excuse to crack down on internal dissent, in Xinjiang and Tibet in particular.

Last weekend, security forces, including the elite 300-strong Snow Wolf Commando Unit, completed a series of anti-terrorist drills called "Great Wall 5".

"Experiences of past Games show that terrorist attacks may occur before the Games so our anti-terrorist forces have been in action ahead of the opening ceremony," Liu Shaowu, security chief at the Beijing organising committee, told Xinhua.

Top terrorism expert Yang Huanning was appointed vice minister of public security earlier this week. That followed March's appointment of security tsar Zhou Yongkang to the steering committee for the Games alongside Liu and President Hu Jintao's likely successor, Xi Jinping.


Liu's speech this week went on to stress that securing the Games was not just down to the professionals and that "mobilising the masses" was key.

"Anyone can be a volunteer!" huge billboards around the capital proclaim, and hundreds of thousands of Beijingers have answered the call.

As well as the 100,000 Olympic and Paralympic volunteers, city authorities aimed to recruit 400,000 "urban" volunteers and a million "social" volunteers.

While most are engaged in nothing more sinister than herding passengers on to buses, the head of Beijing's Security Bureau expects them to keep their eyes peeled for lawbreakers.

"The force of the police is limited, but the force of the people is limitless. The people is the backing of the security work for the Games," Ma Zhenchuan told Xinhua.

Rules regulating the behaviour of the 500,000 foreigners expected in Beijing for the Games have already been laid out in the "Legal guidance for foreigners staying in China during the Olympic Games".

The document forbids activities ranging from bringing more that one pet -- cats and dogs only -- to sleeping outdoors and insulting China's flag.

Life is changing for many of the existing foreign residents of Beijing too, most particularly after regulations governing visas were tightened up.

The result has been long and costly trips to home countries to renew visas and, in some cases, refusal.

Some bars and restaurants close to Olympic venues have been told to shut down and the most recent edition of the English edition of entertainment listings magazine Time Out was impounded over a licensing issue, according to the authorities.

Vice Premier Wang Qishan, however, was still inviting the world to come to the Games on Wednesday.

"We'll definitely give the whole world an opportunity to participate in, contribute to and enjoy a grand sporting event," he said in a speech to U.S. business groups in Washington.

"It's best if you come to Beijing yourself ..." (Additional reporting by Jason Subler in Washington; Editing by NIck Macfie and Jerry Norton) (For more stories visit our multimedia website "Road to Beijing" here; and see our blog at blogs.reuters.com/china)

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