August 05, 2014 11:16
Korea is planning a massive security operation for the visit of famously frugal Pope Francis this month.
Gwanghwamun Plaza in downtown Seoul, where the pontiff will celebrate a mass beatification of Korean martyrs, will be surrounded by 4.5 km of 90 cm-high security fences on Aug. 16.
Congregants will have to pass through any of 300 metal detectors to be set up at the fences.
Police put the final touches on their security plan on Monday, nine days before the pope's arrival. The biggest operation will surround the beatification of the 124 Korean martyrs.
Up to 1 million congregants and spectators are expected to gather in and around the Gwanghwamun area, police said.
Some 200,000 preselected congregants can pass through the fences once their identity has been checked from 4 a.m. that day.
Police will be deployed at nearby buildings including the Korea Press Center and the Seoul City Council buildings, from where Gwanghwamun Plaza is visible, a spokesman said.
Nearby buildings will have to keep their windows shut from the night of Aug. 15 until around 12:30 p.m. the following day. Nobody will be allowed to climb their rooftops in order to prevent potential snipers from taking position there.
Police will be deployed on each floor to keep any suspicious people from approaching. Special-duty Army snipers will be deployed on the rooftops.
About 30,000 police officers will take care of peripheral security. For about a week before the mass, sniffer dogs will patrol nearby parks and buildings.
Gyeongbok and Deoksu Palaces will be closed to visitors from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Aug. 16, and nearby art galleries and public libraries are also considering closing temporarily.
Subway trains will not stop at City Hall Station, Gwanghwamun Station and Gyeongbok Palace Station from early in the morning until 12:30 p.m. that day. All roads to Gwanghwamun Plaza will also be blocked.
"Security for all participants is very important," the police spokesman said. "We'll also pay attention to traffic control to minimize inconvenience."
Police will temporarily confiscate an estimated 65,000 privately owned guns nationwide. Police, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will jointly operate a situation room around the clock from Aug. 11.
Some criticize the operation for being excessive and unbecoming of Pope Francis' style.
The pontiff asked for modest protocol including compact car to ferry him around, and communications with local citizens. He has declined a bulletproof car and vest.
An office worker from a nearby building in Gwanghwamun said, "Police are making a huge fuss by getting us to shut the windows from the day before the event and deploying officers on every floor."
But police claim the efforts are proportional. "During the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit and the 2010 G20 Summit in Seoul, we built two to three layers of barbed-wire fences around the venues," one officer said. "The security plan for the pope isn't nearly as tight as for those events."
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