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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 00:56 GMT
Hollywood spotlight on security

by Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff in Hollywood

With the numbers of police, roadblocks, sniffer dogs, FBI bomb squads, Swat teams and helicopters in Hollywood, it is hard to believe that it is just the scene of a movie award ceremony and not a war zone itself.

The area around the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars are taking place, is in lock-down mode, with so much security that it is almost impossible to get within view of the venue unless you are supposed to be there.

About a mile of Hollywood Boulevard, where the theatre is situated, is shut off to traffic and any pedestrians hoping to walk down are all being searched by police.

How can people who live in a fantasy world opine on real world political issues?
Ted Hayes, protestor
This year, not only have organisers and security services had to face the threat of terrorist attack in reprisal for the war in Iraq, they have also had to deal with protest groups hoping to hijack the world's media to make their points.

As the stars began to arrive, several thousand anti-war protesters gathered a few blocks from the ceremony with banners bearing slogans like "Oscar for peace".

Among them was musician Michelle Shocked, who said holding the Oscars was like "fiddling while Rome burns".

Anti-war demonstrators made their point
"To that degree, shame on them," she said.

Another protester, Karen Palmer, of pressure group Code Pink, said: "Hollywood symbolises the America to a lot of the world.

"By having this event here, we are letting the world peace movement know that we are with them."

Protest leaders had said they would try to get as close to the Kodak Theatre as they could, and cause disruption in a non-violent way.

But the police seemed equally determined not to allow that to happen.

On the other side of Hollywood, several hundred vocal protesters held a counter-demonstration and denounced actors who had spoken out against the war.

"We want to tell these [anti-war] Hollywood 100 that without the British and American military, the freedom and the liberty that their existence provides them - they couldn't be who they are," said Ted Hayes, leader of pro-war group Fit Aim Act.

"How can people who live in a fantasy world opine on real world political issues?"

The area has been declared a no-fly zone, manhole covers have been welded shut and a special national guard unit has been deployed to test the air for signs of chemical or biological terror attacks.

Police snipers will overlook the sealed area where the awards will take place, while the area is under intense closed-circuit television scrutiny to allow police to pick out any suspicious characters.

Both pro- and anti-war protesters turned out
Normally, red carpet would cover the whole of Hollywood Boulevard, with screaming reporters and fans lining the strip down which the stars walk to reach the Oscar ceremony.

But on Sunday, with helicopters buzzing overhead, there was only a short strip of red carpet along a pavement outside the Kodak Theatre, lined with seven-foot tall Oscar statues, buckets of flowers and a hedge.

The area outside the venue was quiet on Sunday morning apart from several workers making last-minute preparations, TV crews, police officers and dark-suited private security guards

The closest members of the public could get was a pavement on the far side of the street - but that was hidden behind a high mesh fence.

People wanting to walk down it had to go through airport-style metal detectors.

Even so, the tacky tourist shops and hamburger restaurants opposite the Kodak Theatre remained open in the hope of attracting the fans who had come to see what they could.

And a small cheering crowd gathered on the other side of the mesh fence as the stars began to trickle in, being the only uninvited guests able to get anywhere near the venue.


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