Beijing cleared for anniversary

China’s capital was wrapped in tight security and thick fog Wednesday as police blocked off Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and other popular tourist landmarks ahead of a massive parade marking 60 years of communist rule. Many tourist spots, hotels, restaurants and shops in central Beijing had already been closed ahead of the celebrations Thursday, which are expected to rival last year’s Olympic opening ceremony. The Forbidden City and the Great Hall of the People were shut along with many businesses located on Chang An, the major boulevard that runs east-west through the city, including the Raffles and Beijing hotels, supermarkets, Starbucks coffee shops, tiny mom-and-pop noodle stalls and tourist boutiques.

Armed pairs of helmeted SWAT police stood guard beside armored vehicles at many intersections along Chang An, while underground subway riders passed through metal detectors and had their bags scanned. State media said most of the subway stations in the Tiananmen area were to be closed late Wednesday or early Thursday. Flags, flowers and celebratory posters dotted the city and thousands of mostly elderly and student volunteers were tasked with making sure the streets were clean and tidy.

Some mobile phone users were surprised by a new patriotic flourish to their service. China Mobile automatically swapped the ringing sound people hear while waiting for someone to answer their mobile phone to a patriotic pop song by martial arts movie star Jacky Chan. A service representative with the company who refused to give her name said the song, “Guojia” or “Nation,” was being given away free to all users as a gift until the end of October. People who don’t want the song to play are free to change their settings, she said.

A heavy fog lay over the city - threatening to diminish the planned fighter jet flyovers and fireworks display. The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Station, as saying 18 planes were on standby to clear the air with cloud-seeding, which is believed to induce rain showers, if it was deemed necessary. Similar actions were undertaken last year during the Olympic Games, when Beijing fired off 1,100 silver iodide rockets to disperse rain on the eve of the opening ceremony. Chinese officials claimed the rockets succeeded in holding off a rain belt that threatened to reach the capital and drench the ceremony. International scientists say there has never been proof that such methods produce results. Rehearsals in the past few weeks have included jets and helicopters flying in formation over the city, releasing streams of red, blue and yellow smoke as they pass by.

Primarily a chance to showcase the country’s might with a massive military parade, the celebrations are to include a “civilian parade” with about 100,000 people taking part and 60 floats. Tens of thousands of doves, 5,000 balloon-toting children and a chorus of thousands are to be part of the show, Xinhua said. Beijing resident Cui Jin, 65, said she felt the elaborate display of military power was an appropriate way to mark the anniversary.

Few other details have been given on the schedule for the celebrations, but a keynote address from President Hu Jintao is expected, followed by the two parades. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, will oversee the evening fireworks display.

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