New York prepares for Republican invasion

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New York feels like a city preparing for an invasion.

With the Republican convention due to begin next Monday, The New Yorker magazine printed a jokey map of the city for visiting delegates. Just as the British removed signposts that might have aided German paratroopers during the second world war, The New Yorker identified Brooklyn as Manhattan and placed the Empire State Building in New Jersey - which was labelled “Staten Island”.

Michael Bloomberg, New York's Republican mayor, may be the only person in the city who is calm about the prospect of the convention. “If you don't live or work in the Garment District [near the convention site], you won't even know that there's a convention in town,” he says.

New York City hosts about 3m visitors every month, so the influx late this week of 50,000 Republicans and media would seem to be a drop in the bucket. Even the 250,000 protesters could be expected to melt into the city's 8m population. But next week is unlikely to feel like the typical sleepy end of summer in New York.

Costing $75m (€61m, £41m), the security may be the tightest ever for a US event. Like the Democratic convention in Boston last month, the Republican convention has been designated a national “special security event”. But the Republican convention is considered at greater risk of terrorism than the Democrats' gathering, homeland security officials say, and will require stricter precautions.

New York City's 40,000-strong police force will work around the clock during the four-day convention, augmented by the secret service and about 1,000 FBI agents. “This is considerably different from any other public event ever held in New York,” says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I can't think of any [security event] that was bigger or is likely to be bigger.”

Trains to Manhattan will be screened for unattended bags. There will be checkpoints on bridges to examine vehicles entering the city.

Mr McCrie says these searches will be enhanced by hand-held scanners that detect chemical and biological agents.

“They are programmed to identify explosive and weaponisable agents that have been used in past attacks. These devices create a much higher level of security than we had before.”

Access to the area surrounding Madison Square Garden - where the convention will be held - will be heavily restricted. The subway will remain open, patrolled by armed officers and dogs.

New York residents are by now familiar with these hallmarks of the city on high alert - and some are choosing to avoid them. Just as many Bostonians fled during the Democratic convention, some New Yorkers are taking a holiday. Many companies are quietly encouraging employees to work from home or satellite offices.

Besides security, the great question hanging over the convention is about the myriad protests.They range from “the world's longest unemployment line” - a piece of street theatre stretching from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden - to a rally organised by Planned Parenthood, an abortion rights group. There will also be demonstrations by groups including anarchists and web “hacktivists”. Last week, tensions between Mr Bloomberg and United for Peace and Justice, a group behind what is expected to be the largest protest, escalated. The anti-war group is suing the city for the right to hold a rally in Central Park. New York officials have denied permits, saying that a gathering of 250,000 people could damage the lawn. But organisers say the city has allowed the park to be used for large gatherings in the past, and is hampering free speech.The city has offered permission to hold the rally on a highway, which the protesters have rejected. The stand-off has raised concerns that tensions will spill over on to the streets, leading to clashes similar to the 1999 demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle or the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

“I'm not sure that the [Bloomberg] administration understands what they're getting in for,” said Andrew White, director of the centre for New York City affairs at the New School University. “The park is a perfect place to contain the anger and contain the crowd.”

Mr Bloomberg, who will begin seeking a second term for mayor next year, has a lot riding on a successful gathering - the first Republican convention to be held in New York. He has promised it will provide an economic boost at a traditionally slow time, whileproving that New York is a safe place to visit and do business.

Despite his tiffs with the demonstrators, Mr Bloomberg last week turned his sales pitch to the protesters themselves, offering themdiscounts to Broadway plays, restaurants and museums - as long as they keep their protests peaceful.

“It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach,” he said.

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