BEIJING: Massive security and thick fog helped create an eerie calm in downtown Beijing on Wednesday as police blocked off Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and other popular tourist landmarks ahead of a massive parade marking 60 years of communist rule.
Many tourist spots, hotels, restaurants and shops in central Beijing had already been closed ahead of the celebrations planned for Thursday, which are expected to rival last year's Olympic opening ceremony.
The Forbidden City and the Great Hall of the People were shut along with many businesses located on Chang An, the major boulevard that runs east-west through the city, including the Raffles and Beijing hotels, supermarkets, Starbucks coffee shops, tiny mom-and-pop noodle stalls and tourist boutiques.
Armed pairs of helmeted SWAT police stood guard beside armored vehicles at many intersections along Chang An, while underground, subway riders passed through metal detectors and had their bags scanned. State media said most of the subway stations in the Tiananmen area were to be closed late Wednesday or early Thursday.
A heavy fog lay over the city threatening to diminish the planned fighter jet flyovers and fireworks display. The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Station, as saying 18 planes were on standby to clear the air with cloud-seeding, which is believed to induce rain showers, if it was deemed necessary.
Similar actions were undertaken last year during the Olympic Games, when Beijing fired off 1,100 silver iodide rockets to disperse rain on the eve of the opening ceremony. Chinese officials claimed the rockets succeeded in holding off a rain belt that threatened to reach the capital and drench the ceremony. International scientists say there has never been proof that such methods produce results.
Rehearsals in the past few weeks have included jets and helicopters flying in formation over the city, releasing streams of red, blue and yellow smoke as they pass by.
Primarily a chance to showcase the country's might with a massive military parade, the celebrations are to include a "civilian parade" with about 100,000 people taking part and 60 floats. Tens of thousands of doves, 5,000 balloon-toting children and a chorus of thousands are to be part of the show, Xinhua said.
The scale of the event reflects strong nationalist feelings among many Chinese, who feel proud of the country's achievements since the People's Republic was founded in 1949 — a transformation from an impoverished, war-wracked country to an economic and diplomatic power.
Beijing resident Cui Jin, 65, said she felt the elaborate display of military power was an appropriate way to mark the anniversary.
"In the future, (our parades) should be even bigger," she said. "If we do not have a strong defense army or a very capable People's Army, how can we have peace and security?"
On Tuesday, at the north end of Tiananmen Square, dozens of staff in purple uniforms helped set up chairs for the invite-only event.
"I participate, I contribute, thus I feel honored," said Zhang Xiaojing, one of those setting up the seats. "I wish wealth and prosperity for our great motherland."
Few other details have been given on the schedule for the celebrations, but a keynote address from President Hu Jintao is expected, followed by the two parades. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, will oversee the evening fireworks display.
The English-language China Daily said Wednesday that the show would feature twice the amount of fireworks used in the Olympics opening gala and, in an earlier editorial, the paper promised that the celebrations would be the "most spectacular in our history."
About 30,000 people have been invited to watch in person, and the spectacle is expected to be broadcast live.
China has been ramping up security over the past few weeks ahead of the holiday, even banning the sale of knives at some stores including large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour. City residents have been barred from flying kites as a precaution against aerial hazards, and those who live in the diplomatic apartments that line the parade route have been told not open their windows or go out on their balconies to watch.
Authorities plan to ground flights into and out of Beijing for three hours during the parade on Oct. 1, according to state media, restrictions similar to ones put in place for last year's Beijing Olympics.