Asian Games

Games city's security forces on high alert

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 November, 2010, 12:00am

One look at the busiest subway stations in Guangzhou will tell the story: the Asian Games are here.

Intense-looking armed police, standing motionless on 20cm-tall platforms, guard every exit of Gongyuanqian station which leads to Beijing Road, the city's busiest shopping area. In Xiaobei station, populated mostly by African traders, six male and two female unarmed police cadets patrol tirelessly.

With the 16th Asian Games starting tomorrow, Guangzhou's security forces are on high alert to ensure a safe and smooth opening.

As organisers of the world's largest non-Olympic multiple-sports event in terms of the number of participating countries, Guangzhou faced a management and logistical challenge, while the rest of the world watched.

This year, there will be 11,643 athletes from 45 countries participating in 42 sports and a total of 590,000 volunteers for the Asian Games and Para Asian Games. About 10,000 journalists from around the world will cover the sporting spectacle.

Fifty-three venues are dotted across the Pearl River Delta. Although most are located in Guangzhou city's downtown area - Panyu, Huangpu and Huadu districts, there are others in Foshan, Dongguan and Shanwei, and even county-level cities such as Zengcheng and Conghua .

A superintendent of the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau's Baiyun branch said police officers had been working hard under heavy pressure to maintain social stability in the run-up to the Games.

'We are too busy to die,' he said, declining to be identified. 'It hurts so much even just to take a breath after working all those extra shifts and running around town.'

He said as well as patrolling streets more often and running more vehicle checks, senior police officers were also called in for emergency meetings every other day, on a range of topics, from formulating strategy to preventing protests and riots.

Confidential communique from the provincial Public Security Department and the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing, which normally arrived once a week, were now coming in every day, providing information about possible demonstrations, social unrest and dissidents' latest moves.

He said officers would receive warnings or face dismissal should they allow any severe crimes, riots, protests or fire incidents to occur in their jurisdictions. 'We must monitor every move of highly targeted people to nip any potential unrest in the bud,' he said.

Guangzhou authorities said early this year that a protest zone for demonstrators to air their grievances would be established, but there are also fears of a repeat of the fiasco at the Beijing Olympics two years ago, when three zones were set up, but nobody was permitted to use them. Police later revealed that all 77 applications were denied. Authorities were embarrassed when two elderly women went ahead, anyway, with a protest over land rights.

Liu Xiaogang, a member of the city's People's Congress and permanent deputy chairman of the Guangzhou Federation of Trade Unions, had raised concerns over the targeting of petitioners claiming unpaid wages in anti-terrorism drills.

Chen Tianben, associate professor at the Chinese People's Public Security University, said the security targets for the Asian Games were similar to those of the Beijing Olympics and the World Expo in Shanghai.

'The main targets are to prevent sporting venues, athletes and overseas visitors from being attacked. Security will be strengthened in stations, ferry piers and airports to protect athletes travelling to sporting venues,' he said.

'Guangzhou's Asian Games security challenge is mostly about ensuring the safety of all venues dotting the town. However, this challenge is no match compared with that of the expo in Shanghai, which required law enforcement officers staying on high alert over a long period of time, or the Beijing Olympics, where any single incident would carry a significant international impact.

'The tricky part about the Guangzhou Asian Games is that the town's ability to deploy police is not as strong as Beijing's was.'

Guangdong police said the venue settings would pose a high security challenge, as it would be difficult to ensure the athletes' safety when they were travelling over a long distance. Guangdong Public Security deputy director general He Guangping said earlier that Guangdong would follow international practices to prepare against possible terrorism, and Guangzhou was no different from Beijing or Shanghai when it came to targets of anti-terrorism.

'Our anti-terrorism target is aligned with our national target. There's no difference. We'll crack down on any terrorist to ensure the Asian Games' security,' He said.

Security for the Games has cost Guangzhou almost one billion yuan (HK$1.16 billion). More than 150 kilometres of roads have been designated as priority to ensure athletes and officials can move easily between training and competition venues. More than one million surveillance cameras were installed.

News bulletins reported police counter-terrorist and hostage rescue drills, with some simulating the hijacking of a bus of athletes by armed gunmen, ahead of the Games.

Unannounced visits to saunas, dance halls have been stepped up and bars, clubs and karaoke clubs in the city have been ordered to shut after 2am.

The huge flow of people, goods and capital into the province posed a complex security situation, said Zheng Zehui , head of the Public Security Management Office of the Guangdong Public Security Department. The provincial Public Security Department had strengthened investigations into prostitution and gambling by officers.

Travellers by land, sea or air could expect to go through security checks.

Other security measures included requiring people buying kitchen knives or other large cutting tools in designated shops to register their real names with police.

This was mainly aimed at minors and those who had mental disorders or showed abnormal behaviour,' Zheng told People's Daily Online.

A full field

There will be 11,643 athletes attending the Asian Games coming from this number of countries: 45