Japan braces for terror and bear attacks ahead of G8

July 4th, 2008 - 9:37 am ICT by IANS  

By Lars Nicolaysen
Tokyo, July 4 (DPA) It all seemed so easy at first: The Hotel Windsor on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido was chosen because of its remote location as the venue for the upcoming G8 summit July 7-9. The hotel straddles a 625-metre-high mountain and was therefore considered easy to secure for the meeting of the top world leaders, said the summit planers in Tokyo.

But the excessive security measures implemented by the authorities out of fear of terrorists and roaming wild bears has now only triggered wonder and even angry reactions.

Some 21,000 police officers have been delegated to secure Hokkaido during the summit, the island’s police chief Kiyotaka Takahashi, announced recently.

The police force comprises 5,000 local officers and an additional 16,000 drawn from neighbouring provinces.

Japan, which wants to uphold its reputation as one of the safest countries in the world, is leaving nothing to chance in terms of security.

“While we haven’t received any information about concrete terrorist attacks, we don’t want to handle this too relaxed,” Takahashi recently told journalists.

Sniffer dogs have searched the area around the hotel, divers have scoured the bottom of nearby Toya Lake and surveillance cameras were installed in the subway stations of the provincial capital Sapporo and along highways leading to the host city Toyako.

According to railway operator Hokkaido Railways usage of lockers at railway stations will be restricted during the summit.

To prevent terrorists from entering the country, security checks have been tightened at airports, ports and railway stations.

“Japan is obviously going crazy over this summit,” remarked a Tokyo-based foreigner over the heavy presence of police.

The civic organization G8 Media Network reported that eight foreign journalists, who were invited by the organization, were detained and interrogated at airports for between five and 14 hours each.

The G8 Citizens Media centre in Sapporo reported that three freelance journalists were ordered by the authorities to leave Japan three days before the start of the summit.

But the authorities have not only identified foreigners as a potential threat.

Over the weekend some 1,500 people protested against the summit and some clashed with police in Tokyo resulting in the arrest of eight people.

The government also fears aggressive demonstrations on Hokkaido organized by globalization opponents.

According to Japanese media reports, some activist groups have rented camping grounds for up to 2,000 people in the towns of Date, Toyoura and Sobetsu, some 20 km from Toyako.

Security measures for the summit participants has turned out to be much more difficult than during the last summit held eight years ago in Japan on the southern island of Okinawa, said a security officer in the online issue of Sankei newspaper.

More than 1,200 officers are to be responsible for the security of VIPs alone, more than twice as many as in 2000, as participants from an additional 15 countries have been invited to attend the summit.

But not only human threats will test the Japanese hosts as nature may pose a security risk as well.

The mountain on which the hotel lies is often shrouded in thick fog, which may hinder the landing of helicopters, the preferred transportation mode from a security perspective. Land transportation is considered a high-risk mode, according to Sankei.

And then there are Hokkaido’s famous brown bears, notorious for appearing near towns during July and September in search of food. Last year alone Hokkaido’s police force received 660 brown bear alerts.

Although the police received from the area of the summit town Toyako only five bear warnings, again, leaving nothing to chance, security personnel have been issued with anti-bear spray and a bell.

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