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Why security is tighter in Beijing

Measures include checkpoints around the city and missiles by the Olympic stadium.

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ETIM “is the preeminent threat to the Olympics, but because of the security measures it would be very difficult for them to attack Olympic venues,” says Rohan Guneratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.

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Some critics of the Chinese government say Beijing has exaggerated the threat of Uighur terrorism. “They have inflated and distorted terrorist claims in order to justify a broader repressive campaign in Xinjiang,” argues Nicolas Bequelin, a researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The US State Department, however, in a confidential report by its Overseas Security Advisory Council, warned recently that “it is possible that Xinjiang-based ETIM extremists may contemplate conducting attacks to disrupt the Games,” pointing to “a now growing concern over possible threats.”

Hundreds of thousands mobilized
The Chinese government certainly appears to be taking security threats seriously. Nearly 100,000 policemen and soldiers have been mobilized for the Games, along with at least as many “neighborhood watch” volunteers, now kitted out in tennis shirts emblazoned with the Beijing Olympics logo.

They have been instructed to report any unusual visitors or activity in their districts, according to Liu Shaowu, director of security for the Games’ organizing committee (BOCOG).

“We have engaged the general public,” Mr. Liu told reporters recently. “For those who intend to sabotage the Games, the most important way to control them lies in our people.”

In the northeastern city of Shenyang, for example, where some preliminary soccer matches will be held, cab drivers have been given security training and asked to act as “intelligence agents,” according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The government has also thrown a security cordon around the capital, requiring everyone coming into the city to show identity papers – a move that is causing hours-long lines at the checkpoints. On Beijing’s subways, police have imposed airport-style security measures, banning liquids and X-raying luggage, and on the streets Chinese and foreign residents are subject to snap ID checks.

When the Games begin next Friday, predicts the OSAC report, “the police will be very proactive in stopping any protests before they gain momentum. Though Western activist groups will likely try to stage small demonstrations, these will most likely be put down as quickly and peacefully as possible.”

Protest areas in three Beijing parks have been set aside for demonstrators, BOCOG security chief Liu said last week, but activists must seek police permission for such protests.

Normally, such permission is not granted, human rights groups have pointed out.

As for the likelihood of a terrorist attack, the government’s own estimate of the current threat level is “moderate.”

“Beijing is one of the safest cities in the world and China is one of the safest countries in the world,” Liu reassured journalists. “The general situation faced by Beijing is stable.”