Olympic venue security bolstered by missile launchers

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has bolstered its Olympic security effort by deploying a battery of surface-to-air missile launchers a kilometer south of the showpiece venues for the Beijing Games.

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At least two camouflaged Hongqi 7 missile launchers were visible from a public road close to the stadium built for the 1990 Asian Games, which is just across the city’s fourth ring road from the Bird’s Nest arena and Water Cube aquatics centre.

Radar dishes and other military vehicles along with uniformed air force personnel were also visible through a fence on which was posted a notice reading “Military Administrative District, No Admittance”.

Aircraft are almost never seen in the skies above central Beijing, which is restricted airspace. Olympic broadcasters, however, will be allowed to use helicopters to cover the August 8-24 Games.

Greece installed dozens of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles around Athens six weeks before the 2004 Olympics, the first Summer Games after the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The U.S.-made missiles were part of a huge security operation with a significant NATO contribution that cost an unprecedented $1.8 billion.

China has said it hopes to secure the Games for less than a third of the Athens bill by using its own armed forces.

It regards terrorism as the biggest threat and claims to have foiled bomb plots and plans to kidnap athletes by militants from the far-Western region of Xinjiang.

Beijing said last week that a special 100,000-strong security force, including the elite Snow Wolf Commando Unit, was already on alert for terrorists.

Rights groups accuse China of using the potential terrorist threat as an excuse to suppress internal dissent.

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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