Delhi will be under siege as Games close Thursday


New Delhi : The Indian capital will look like a curfew-hit town Thursday as a slew of security and administrative measures will be enforced to ensure a safe Commonwealth Games closing ceremony where Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the chief guest.

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The heart of the city will transform into a restricted area as thousands of police and paramilitary personnel fan out to guard the venue of the high-profile event — the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

The presence of Rajapaksa, whose military crushed the Tamil Tigers only last year, at the stadium can only add to the security agencies’ worries. Giving him company will be Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance.

Traffic to the city centre Connaught Place will be restricted from midnight Wednesday in view of the marathon race set for Thursday morning. The men’s hockey final will also take place Thursday.

Central and Delhi government offices will be shut Thursday. So will all the main markets.

Schools, colleges and hostels have been already closed for the 12-day Games that began Oct 3. Policemen, many armed with automatic weapons, have stepped up random checking of vehicles across the city, paying special attention to motorists.

“We have been on high alert all these days. We will remain on top alert till the Games end Thursday,” Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat told IANS.

“Our responsibility will continue till the last foreign athlete and official leaves the country safely,” he added.

About 7,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories have been in New Delhi for the 12-day mega event, the biggest sports event that India hosted after the 1982 Asiad.

Although many of them have left India, there will be some 5,000 visitors at the stadium Thursday.

A home ministry official said: “There will be no compromise on security till Thursday. Things have worked well so far. But we won’t lower our guard.”

Delhi’s airports will be a no-fly zone during the two-hour closing ceremony from 7 p.m.

The Indian Air Force will monitor Delhi’s skies. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) will look for air intrusions.

Thousands of police and paramilitary forces will be on the roads. Plainclothes personnel have been mingling in markets and residential areas besides bus stands and railway stations.

Thursday will be a day of traffic restrictions.

Traffic towards the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium will begin at 2 p.m., five hours before the ceremony begins.

Patel Chowk and Central Secretariat stations of Delhi Metro will be closed. But Metro trains will ply beyond the usual closing time of 11 p.m. for spectators to return home from the Stadium.

“Our personnel will be on high alert from Wednesday night till the early hours of Friday,” Rajan Bhagat told IANS.