Friday, November 12, 2010

Asian Games ceremony will displace local residents

In this photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, participants take part in a rehearsal ahead of the Asian Games opening ceremony in Guangzhou, China.  There  
AP – In this photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, participants take part in a rehearsal ahead of the Asian Games …
GUANGZHOU, China – A flotilla of 45 boats adorned with LED lights will ferry thousands of athletes down the Pearl River and into what is certain to be a spectacular Asian Games opening ceremony featuring 6,000 performers.
The one important element missing from the first-of-a-kind opener: Local residents.
Organizers are not taking any risks on security for the event Friday night. Those who live within a half-mile radius of the ceremony venue on Haixinsha Island are being ordered to leave their homes, apparently to eliminate threats such as sniper attacks.
"Rest assured, everything is in place. Guangzhou is ready," said He Jiqing, the organizing committee's director of ceremonies and cultural events, sidestepping a request to describe security arrangements for the event. "Tomorrow night's opening ceremony as well as the entire Asian Games will be smooth and grand."
Security will be tight for the event that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other Asian leaders will attend. Organizers reportedly will spend $302 million on security at the games.
The best way to experience the opening ceremony is to watch it on TV, he added, after a reporter asked if he had suggestions for locals who want to come to the riverside.
"Our TV broadcasting agencies are well prepared and ready to broadcast this opening ceremony. Our residents and citizens ... will be able to watch the grand opening ceremony tomorrow night at home," he said. "We also set up large TV screens in major Guangzhou plazas so that most of the people can celebrate the important moment with us."
Organizers said athletes and coaches will cruise along the river in boats bedecked with colorful lights, taking in sights of this southern Chinese city before arriving at the specially built island venue. The theme of the ceremony is water and it will showcase local culture through music, lights and fireworks, He said.
"I was hoping to watch the boats pass by," said 22-year-old computer saleswoman Sun Jianhui, who wasn't able to get a ticket to the ceremony. "But they are locking down the waterfront of the Pearl River, too."
"But this is normal," she added. "They are afraid there might be some terrorist attacks or something like that."
Other residents interviewed Thursday night along the waterfront, which was filled with hundreds of people taking photos before the area is locked down, were also understanding about the tight security.
"It's only a few hours, it's OK. It's for the Asian Games," said 50-year-old Chen Hanhua, who lives about a half-mile from the venue. Residents in his newly constructed neighborhood of high-rises have been ordered to watch the ceremony on TV together in a downstairs common area of the building.
It was not known how many people would be affected. Phones for official spokespeople at the Guangzhou police rang unanswered Thursday.
Media reports have not elaborated on the reasons for the relocation program except to say it was for "security purposes," though Chinese authorities have instituted similar measures.
During an important military parade in Beijing last year, residents along the miles-long route were ordered to close their curtains and stay away from windows while the parade passed by, to avoid risk of any attacks. Barricades were set up blocks away from the parade to keep away citizens.
In Guangzhou, local media have described relocation plans in which residents who live near the opening ceremony venue have to leave their homes Friday afternoon, though they should leave all the lights on to help illuminate the cityscape for the event.
Residents who live within a half-mile of the venue and who can see the main stage from their windows must leave and will be put up in luxury hotels, the Yangcheng Evening News said. Those who don't want to stay in hotels can receive $45 in compensation instead.
The Nanfang Daily reported that residents who live near the opening ceremony venue will be taken to watch the event in plazas where large screens are being set up, or they can also go see three movies for free.
Old people, women who have just given birth and others who can't leave their homes can stay behind, though they will be joined by a police officer or volunteer during the ceremony, the paper said.
Subway stations in downtown Guangzhou were closed on Thursday for security sweeps ahead of the ceremony.
One closely guarded secret about the ceremony is the lighting of the Asian Games cauldron. He promised an "unexpected surprise" but said it will have Chinese elements and be done in a way that Chinese people will love.
Local media have speculated that the person who will light the Asian Games cauldron might be Chinese table tennis great Deng Yaping, table tennis player Ma Lin, two-time Olympic judo gold medalist Xian Dongmei or soccer player Rong Zhixing.

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