VIRTUAL martial law came to the streets of Atlanta after the blast, prompting a backlash against a heavy-handed crackdown. Scores of journalists and private citizens reported being attacked with tear-gas and Mace sprays by police, who resorted to force to clear the bomb scene. One reporter, who was sprayed in the face with Mace, said the scene reminded him of crackdowns in the old, white-ruled South Africa. Even Xinhua (the New China News Agency) criticised tactics by the police. 'The police at first tried to drive the reporters away, then they started to fire tear-gas,' Xinhua reported. 'Many reporters were choked by the gas and very angry. Some cried out loudly: 'Is this press freedom in the United States?' ' National guard troops, who are only used in emergencies, patrolled the streets brandishing weapons. Riot police, tear-gas and the shooting of civilians were a fixture of the strife-torn 1960s when authorities cracked down hard on anti-Vietnam and other demonstrations. But such a show of force is now rare. The thousands of officers assigned to Olympic security brought the city's downtown to a standstill, effectively preventing the public from returning to their hotels. US swimmer Janet Evans, who was near the scene of the blast, complained that she and other athletes were barred from returning to the security of the Olympic Village. She was forced to spend the night at her family's hotel room in the city centre. Senator Fred Thompson warned: 'We cannot turn ourselves into a police state. We've got to walk a fine line.'