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Asia-Pacific
Sydney prepares lockdown for Apec
Critics say massive security operation for Asia-Pacific summit is heavy handed.
Last Modified: 29 Aug 2007 05:35 GMT
The New South Wales state police chief says he is taking no chances with security [AFP]

Australia is putting in place the largest security operation in its history as the city of Sydney prepares to go into lock-down for next week's summit of Asia-Pacific leaders.

Some 21 government leaders will be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) meeting, protected by a massive security fence around the summit venue and thousands of police and special forces soldiers.

But the security plans were dealt a setback on Tuesday with news that an outbreak of equine flu had forced the quarantine of all horses in the city's mounted police department.

 

"This is the biggest security event that's ever been hosted in the history of Australia"

Andrew Scipione, New South Wales state police chief

The announcement comes as the authorities battle to contain Australia's first outbreak of the disease, imposing a nationwide ban on the movement of horses.

 

Officials, however, denied that the inability to deploy mounted officers would diminish security levels at the summit.

 

"It won't stop us being able to protect dignitaries, the public or police at any planned protest," said Andrew Scipione, the deputy commissioner of New South Wales police.

 

"The police presence will be backed up by the new water cannon that has been purchased by the state government for use in crowd control," he said.

 

'Peaceful protest'

 

Civil liberties groups have criticised the planned security operation, including the purchase of the water canon, as heavy-handed.

 

In one case critics have likened the installation of a network of police loudspeakers around the city to the tactics of tightly-controlled police states such as North Korea.

 

"They're basically treating us like terrorists"

Alex Bainbridge, StopBush protest organiser

The StopBush Coalition protest group, which is hoping to attract up to 10,000 people to a demonstration during the summit, said the authorities were trying to intimidate protesters.

 

"We are planning a peaceful protest but the police are making it very difficult and being very provocative," StopBush organiser Alex Bainbridge told the AFP news agency.

 

"They're basically treating us like terrorists and denying our democratic right to protest."

 

In an operation eclipsing security measures for the 2000 Olympics, some 3,500 police backed-up by 1,500 special forces troops will be deployed for the week-long Apec meeting.

 

They will enforce an exclusion zone around the summit venue, which is surrounded by a 5.5km, 2.8m-high concrete and steel security fence.

 

Police say they have also cleared enough jail cells to hold 500 demonstrators and converted 30 buses into mobile holding cells that can also be used as street barricades.

 

No chances

 

With the US, Chinese and Russian presidents attending the summit, Andrew Scipione, the New South Wales state police chief, said he was taking no chances with security.

 

"This is the biggest security event that's ever been hosted in the history of Australia, which is why we are going to the extraordinary lengths that we are, at a time when we are living in heightened times of terrorism and certainly there is significant protest activity around," he said.

 

Rejecting criticism of heavy-handedness, officials say they are determined to avoid a repeat of violent demonstrations seen in Melbourne during the World Economic Forum in 2000 and last November's G20 economic leaders meeting.

 

John Howard, the Australian prime minister, told reporters on Tuesday that "if people didn't violently demonstrate, these precautions would not be necessary".

 

"But they violently demonstrated in Melbourne, police were injured, and I fully support the efforts of New South Wales and Commonwealth police."

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