St. Petersburg Police Ready for Visitors
May 16, 2003
By IRINA TITOVA
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - Police are taking no chances: They're conducting sweeps of attics and cellars, training for crowd control - even resurrecting the old Soviet tactic of expelling potential troublemakers.
It's all part of preparations for the 50 world leaders soon to descend on St. Petersburg for the city's 300th birthday.
Residents of Russia's former czarist capital have also been told to demonstrate their ``responsibility'' and ``patriotic spirit'' - which in this case partly means to make themselves scarce.
The city's most famous living native son, President Vladimir Putin, is hosting dozens of potentates including President Bush, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac between May 30 and June 1, the height of the city's tricentennial festivities.
The presence of so many foreign dignitaries, with entourages totaling some 15,000 people, is set to bring unprecedented security measures to St. Petersburg. Entire districts will be temporarily off-limits to drivers and even pedestrians.
St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 and often called Russia's ``window on Europe,'' has spent the past couple of years swathed in scaffolding as officials hurried to repair its overlooked and decrepit landmarks in preparation for its birthday.
This is St. Petersburg's moment to shine.
Police want nothing to mar celebrations for a city glorified by some of Russia's greatest writers and composers, honored for withstanding a 900-day Nazi seize and known for changing its name three times, most recently from Leningrad.
Over the last three months, city police swept through 12,000 construction sites, searching for illegal squatters. Police are keeping a closer eye on 5,000 dwellings known to house drunks, drug addicts and others possible misbehavers, said Leonid Bogdanov, acting head of St. Petersburg's public safety police.
More than 800 people who were not registered in St. Petersburg as required by law have been expelled, Bogdanov told reporters this week. Potentially troublemaking teenagers were marched off to summer camps in the countryside, he said.
Soviet authorities used similar tactics to clear Moscow of undesirables ahead of the 1980 Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile, the city's 4.7 million population, particularly drivers, are asked to be on their best behavior. And measures were being taken to prevent violence by local skinheads and ultranationalists. Just last week, skinheads in St. Petersburg beat up six ethnic Turkish schoolchildren from Germany.
``Drivers will be asked to go around the city,'' said Sergei Krankevich, city traffic police spokesman. Cars and trucks that do enter the city may be searched.
To help, traffic police published 300,000 leaflets with maps and information on how to avoid problematic roads. The leaflets call on drivers to display ``responsibility'' and a ``patriotic spirit'' during the celebration.
Police, who will get 3,500 reinforcements from other regions, have increased the number of special forces guarding strategic installations in the city such as the water supply system, bridges and historical sites.
Over the last three months, some 40,000 buildings, cellars and attics have been checked to ensure they are not used to stage terrorist attacks.
And the police themselves aren't exempt from the cleanup: Hoping to make the force more foreigner-friendly, the city issued officers pocket-size Russian-English phrase books.
A sampling of helpful phrases includes, ``Stop it,'' ``Give way, please,'' ``No access here,'' ``Where has the offender gone?'' and ``You should not tell people of your financial state and give your address to fellow travelers you don't know.''
Despite - or maybe because of - the hype, many St. Petersburg residents say they'll skip the celebrations.
``When I think of all that crowd and the number of police in the center ... it's quite clear to me that I don't want to be there,'' scientist Vadim Pchyolkin said.