- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 1, 2003

From combined dispatches

SYDNEY, Australia Cities across the world tightened security for New Year's Eve celebrations, with the Indonesian capital deploying 200,000 police officers and Sydney taking Olympics-level precautions for a party expected to attract 1 million people.

With memories still fresh of the Bali bombings on Oct. 12 that killed about 190 persons, two-thirds of Jakarta's police force were on the streets of the city, guarding shopping and entertainment centers, mosques, churches and public facilities. Jakarta is the capital of the world's biggest Muslim nation.

In Sydney, police imposed measures not seen since the 2000 Olympics, banning cars from the central business district and blocking streets for a party that was to culminate in a massive fireworks display over the harbor at midnight.

Many partygoers who staked out harbor vantage points seemed unconcerned about the extra security.

"It plays in the back of your mind, but we are happy with the security; the police have checked our bags," a woman on the harbor foreshore said.

Australia went on a medium-level security alert last month after its government said that it had received credible information of a terrorist threat.

The heightened security follows the September 11 attacks on the United States that killed almost 3,000 people and the Bali bombings that killed up to 90 Australians.

Western nations have warned their citizens in Indonesia of possible bombings throughout the Christmas-New Year period.

A series of church bombings across Indonesia on Christmas Eve two years ago killed 19 persons.

Even though their fabled tourist industry was devastated by the blasts, Balinese will put on a brave face at New Year's Eve festivities on the famous Kuta Beach, just blocks away from where two bombs ripped through a number of nightclubs.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri will attend the festivities, which will include traditional dance and musical performances.

In the Philippine capital, Manila, SWAT teams and plainclothes agents on motorcycles were posted near the already tightly secured seaside U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions to prevent terrorist or rebel attacks timed with the onset of the new year, Manila police Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong said.

On the other side of the world, an extra 1,000 police officers were to have been deployed in Paris to oversee celebrations, bringing the total to about 5,500. Cars were banned around the French capital's famed Champs Elysees, where up to 300,000 revellers are expected.

Security fears have been heightened after a spate of arrests in and around Paris this month of persons suspected of being Islamic militants.

Police said on Monday that they had arrested a baggage handler at Paris' main international airport who had guns and explosives hidden in his car.

The Interior Ministry said on Dec. 20 that at least one attack was being planned for the near future.

Apparently bowing to security concerns, the legendary Paris-Dakar rally will not start in Paris nor end in Dakar, Senegal. Instead, the race of 128 cars, 165 motorbikes and 49 trucks will set off today from Marseille for a 5,300-mile race to the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik.

Hubert Auriol, the only person to win the rally on a motorbike and in a car, said the decision to shift the course to northern Africa was taken partly due to the dangers and political turmoil in many African nations, such as the Congo and the Central African Republic.


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