Military presence increased in Melbourne for 2006 Commonwealth Games

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Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Aerial shot of Commonwealth Games venues, Melbourne - Feb 20006

Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon has warned of an increase in police and military activity in Melbourne, Australia, in preparation for the Commonwealth Games. Officials say a major security sweep of Melbourne is underway at the athletes' village.

A 24-hour temporary police station inside the 20-hectare Parkville site will be staffed by 109 officers. The station will house a monitoring centre for the village's closed-circuit TV network. Melbourne's newest police station, keeping tabs on nearly 6000 athletes and officials from 71 countries will operate for seven weeks.

Ms Nixon said people should not be alarmed. "They will be seeing, over the next month or two, an increase in some air activity and perhaps military on the streets coming into place for the support they'll give to the Games." Commissioner Nixon says the defence forces have an important role to play.

"You won't certainly see an armed soldier walking down the streets of Melbourne, that's not the security level that we have and the presence that we need," she said. "Military will be there, they'll be checking trucks and cars going into venues, they'll be doing all of that."

More than 150 Defence Force personnel and police moved on to the village site on Tuesday. Games Minister Justin Madden said the sweep would continue until athletes arrived at the village on March 5. Sweeps of all venues will take place before the Games begin.

More than 1200 defence staff have been seconded to the Games security team. F/A-18 Hornets and Black Hawk helicopters will enforce a 75km no-fly zone around the MCG.

Every vehicle that enters the village - and every other venue - will have to first pass through a bomb search bay that includes X-ray machines. Army security sweeps are continuing across all venues. These, combined with comprehensive bag and personal checks at Games time, are seen as the best way to guard against a terrorist strike.

"If people ring up and say, 'Oh look, there's a bomb in it', we'll be pretty much able to say 'no, there's not'," Commissioner Nixon said.

While security is being stepped up at the village, Ms Nixon said there is no direct threat to the Games overall. "We have a medium-level of security at these Games," she said. "The risk assessment is we have no direct threat to the Games, no evidence at all."

The Victorian Government has declared Birrarung Marr, Alexandra Gardens, Albert Park and the Yarra River to be official Games venues, giving police the power to enforce tough anti-protest laws. A similar ruling on Yarra Park - home to the MCG - will also come into effect.

Games laws provide for fines of $2000 for offences such as blocking access, erecting signs, kicking stones or throwing missiles in "venues".