BEIJING, Sept 30 – China launched a massive shutdown of bustling central Beijing Wednesday on the eve of a spectacular celebration of 60 years of Communist rule, with authorities determined to leave nothing to chance.
The Forbidden City and other key landmarks around the Chinese capital’s Tiananmen Square were closed and city residents hurried to tie up loose ends at work before a wide swathe of the capital was completely blocked off.
At least 100,000 people will take part Thursday in National Day festivities centering on the square that will laud China’s revival — under Communist Party leadership — as a world economic, military and political power.
Spearheading the gala will be a military parade with some of the latest-generation home-grown weaponry, in what experts say will be a statement to the world that China must be taken seriously.
Amid unrest in ethnic minority regions like Xinjiang and Tibet, authorities have imposed some of the tightest security in the capital’s history in recent weeks — and the controls were to be ratcheted up on Wednesday.
Major roads including the parade route on the Avenue of Eternal Peace — Beijing’s central thoroughfare — and parts of the subway system were to be shut down later in the day.
"People should finish up early and go home or they might encounter problems. That’s what we are telling pedestrians," said Xiao Matian, a volunteer traffic guard.
A heightened security presence could be seen along the parade route, with police on patrol, some approaches to the avenue sealed off with police tape, and many of an estimated 800,000 red-sashed security "volunteers" out in force.
China typically holds grand Communist-style celebrations every 10 years to commemorate revolutionary leader Mao Zedong’s October 1, 1949 proclamation of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at Tiananmen.
Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun told journalists on Wednesday that the event would showcase "a China which has strong confidence in its future".
But authorities have gone to extreme lengths to ensure that nothing goes wrong this year — even banning the flying of pigeons and kites, and declaring war on pests at Tiananmen Square, where a new portrait of Mao has been hung.
Beggars and the homeless have been cleared out and knife sales temporarily banned in at least some capital-area stores after two recent stabbing attacks near Tiananmen Square that state media said left two dead and 14 injured.
The high security is expected to render Thursday’s gala a made-for-TV event for the vast majority of Beijing’s citizens.
"Police suggest that Beijing residents try not to go out on October 1 to avoid complications. They recommend the public watch the celebrations live on TV," the China Daily newspaper said.
Major hotels near Tiananmen Square told AFP they had stopped accepting foreign guests, in line with a government order, and residents living on the parade route have been ordered to stay off balconies and keep windows shut.
State media said last week China would even deploy aircraft to spray cloud dispersal chemicals to prevent the weather from raining on its parade.
However, it was unclear what measures might be taken to clear an acrid layer of smog that has settled over the capital for days.