Obama checking in: Delhi’s Maurya swarms with commandos

November 1st, 2010 - 3:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Rahul Vaishnavi
New Delhi, Nov 1 (IANS) Not an inch of the ITC Maurya Sheraton will be without surveillance when US President Barack Obama arrives for a two-night stay. The luxury hotel is swarming with Delhi Police commandos a week before he checks in with wife Michelle.

Obama arrives for a Nov 7-9 stay at the Presidential Suite of the southwest Delhi hotel and security is visibly tight even though police and hotel staff refuse to divulge details.

Police commandos in combat gear have been stationed in Mercedes vans. Also fortifying the hotel are private guards lining the corridor that leads to the main entrance.

“It is a big event for us. After all, he is the president of America and we have to be prepared. Although the security here always remains tight, we have been asked to be extra vigilant,” a hotel security guard who did not wish to be named told IANS.

Hotel security admits that all staff, right from chefs to bellboys, are on high alert.

All the 440 rooms at the hotel have been booked for Obama and his entourage. Some 200 US business chiefs are also expected to join the president during the trip in Delhi.

“During Obama’s stay here, every inch of the hotel would be under surveillance. One can never take a chance when so many senior luminaries are staying here,” said a hotel security guard.

A few guests who are oblivious to Obama’s impending arrival are intrigued by the presence of a large number of security personnel, while others are excited.

“I have been to the Maurya on several occasions, but the kind of security arrangements in place today is totally unprecedented,” said a perplexed Amita Sabharwal, a businesswoman who was ignorant that the hotel would host Obama for two nights.

Once told who would be staying there, her response immediately changed. “Well, if it’s Obama, then I guess everything is justified,” she said.

Another guest while handing over his car keys to a valet attendant inquired worriedly, “Why are so many security guards here? Is everything all right?”

Others are more aware. “I’ve heard that Obama would be having lunch here during his visit…He must try the chicken here,” said one of the diners at the Bukhara restaurant in the hotel.

Even the waiters at the restaurant break into a grin at the mere mention of Obama.

“We are talking to our chefs and they would be cooking delicious fare for the president. We all are excited to meet the president of the world’s strongest country,” one of the waiters told IANS.

US aircraft carrying dismantled helicopters, armoured vehicles and cars and sophisticated communication equipment have already started arriving in Mumbai, from where the president will commence his India visit, before proceeding to New Delhi.

Obama is known to move around in an armoured Cadillac car built at an estimated cost of $300,000 and nicknamed the “Beast”. During his Nov 6-9 India visit he is likely to use the same car.

With its armour reportedly being a mix of dual-hardness steel, aluminium, titanium and ceramic, the car’s windows are ballistic glass said to be five inches thick.

According to the Los Angeles Times, there is probably a woven Kevlar mat covering the floorboard to protect the car from blasts. The cabin is believed to feature a sealed air recirculation system to protect its occupants from chemical attacks.

(Rahul Vaishnavi can be contacted at rahul.v@ians.in)

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