Wed, Jan 21, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Washington clamps down on security for inauguration

AFP , WASHINGTON

US Secret Service and police tightened a security clamp on Washington on Monday, closing major traffic arteries and throwing up a rigid downtown cordon on the eve of Barack Obama? historic inauguration.

As Obama criss-crossed the city in his new armored car to engage in community service events, authorities began choreographing a well-rehearsed plan to turn a 3km?area of the capital into a hyper-secure zone.

?he closures have begun, and everything is going along as planned,?a spokeswoman for the Secret Service? Joint Information Center said less than 24 hours before Obama is sworn in.

Police blocked off streets to all but official vehicles, and National Guard reservists fanned out to take up positions across downtown, where as many as 2 million people could arrive to witness history yesterday.

Military and police helicopters were seen making routine flights over the city, and Secret Service sharpshooters were expected to take up key positions atop government buildings, museums, hotels and offices.

Downtown streets were to fall eerily silent overnight, with access to the district severely restricted from 2am when the state of Virginia was to shut bridges into Washington and reroute public traffic around the city until at least last night.

?he bridge closures are new to this inauguration,?Washington department of transportation official Karyn Le Blanc said, noting that yesterday was to be the first US presidential transition since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

?nd the fact that it? the inauguration of the first African-American [president] leads us to believe that the crowds will be fairly large,?she said.

More than 12,500 active troops and military reservists, thousands of metropolitan police with reinforcements from 99 law enforcement agencies around the nation are descending on Washington to ensure security.

The US military was to fly air patrols, man surface-to-air weapons systems, ply the Potomac River with gunboats, assess chemical and biological threats, organize large-scale medical support in the event of an attack, and provide visible and undercover on-the-ground security.

After the inauguration, Obama was to be escorted from the US Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in the 56th Inaugural Parade, during which he may choose to walk part of the route or ride in his new, snazzed-up limousine ?believed to be the safest presidential wheels ever.

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