Hanoi in near lockdown to secure city for APEC

(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-18 09:46

HANOI: They've been told not to gather on the street, not to unlock their second-floor windows, and not to open their shops. Life has turned into a security straitjacket for neighbours of Hanoi's glitzy hotels as Asia-Pacific leaders pile into one of the world's safest cities.

The charm that usually surrounds Hanoi's wide, tree-lined streets has been replaced by barricades, sirens and water cannons ahead of the arrival of some of the world's most powerful heads of state for this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.

It's the biggest event Viet Nam has ever hosted and is a chance for it to shed its war- and poverty-shaped image. Hanoi cannot afford for anything to go wrong, and the government has revved up security so much that parts of the capital are in near-lockdown.

The roads and villages surrounding the Sheraton hotel near the city's West Lake are perhaps the worst off. US President George W. Bush will be staying there with First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"We had to sign a document pledging that we will maintain security ... and report to authorities when we have people coming to our house," said Tran Ngoc Lieu, a mechanic forced to close his repair shop for 10 days because it is across from the Sheraton. "I think it's a little bit too strict."

Sidewalks usually bustling with vendors hawking everything from mangoes to rubber slippers are nearly deserted. Motorbike taxis, cabs and even Hanoi's ubiquitous rickshaws, called cyclos, are nowhere to be found near hotels.

Nguyen Thi Thanh, donning a worn conical hat, dared to sell bags of fresh tea from plastic satchels dangling from a bamboo pole balanced on her shoulder. She travelled 4 hours by bus to Hanoi from her home province and is stuck in the capital until all 20 kilograms are sold. The build-up to APEC has reduced her daily earnings from about US$1.60 to 95 US cents.

"If I'm caught, I'll have to pay a fine," she said after quickly making a sale just outside the Sheraton's back entrance. "I've heard about APEC, but I don't understand what it is. I don't know who Bush is. I only know Ho Chi Minh."

In perhaps the biggest display of muscle here since the Viet Nam War, security forces wearing fatigues and bulletproof vests and carrying AK-47s have cordoned off five-star hotels. Porters tote the luggage of departing guests to nearby streets to flag down transport.

Despite its long military past, including brutal wars with the French and Americans, Viet Nam today is practically void of uniformed soldiers, and private ownership of guns is strictly banned. It's considered one of the safest countries in the world.

The entire police force is on high alert following weeks of drills ranging from mock hostage-takings to explosions in high-rises. Firefighters are even camping out in tents outside major hotels.

Protests commonly associated with APEC meetings are not expected in Hanoi.

Some streets leading to the site of the APEC meeting, a cavernous national convention centre on the outskirts of Hanoi, are to be closed off entirely to traffic from 6 am to 11 pm during the weekend event with leaders from 21 countries and regions, including Russia, China, South Korea and Japan.

"I have loaded up my refrigerator with enough meat and vegetables for the week and will refresh it with new supplies before those two days," said Nguyen Van Quang, who was told to close all doors and windows at his apartment, which faces the new US$300 million convention centre.

"It will create a few problems for our daily lives, but we are willing to follow the government's instructions to guarantee absolute security for the meeting."

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours