Beijing quiet amid heavy security

The streets of Beijing were unusually quiet today as a blanket of security was thrown over the city and residents enjoyed a public holiday ahead of the evening's Olympic opening ceremony.

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More than 100,000 police, armed forces and “public order volunteers” have been called in to scout for any trouble in the city during the Games, amid warnings of terror attacks from Islamic separatists.

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The show of force was most acute at Tiananmen Square, where armed and regular police were seen throughout the huge square and surrounding streets.

Beijing's airport was also due to be shut down just ahead of the 8:08 pm (2208AEST) start of the opening ceremony at the iconic Bird's Nest stadium.

At Tiananmen Square, one of China's most politically sensitive sites where the military crushed weeks of pro-democracy protests in 1989, passers-by were forced to stay away from the centre of the square.

Nevertheless, crowds hugged the areas around the square, in particular on the north side close to the entrance to the Forbidden City and under the portrait of communist China's founder, Mao Zedong.

Atmosphere 'upbeat'

Around 1,000 dancers were performing on the main part of the square as a rehearsal for festivities in the evening to coincide with the opening ceremony.

“They are having a cultural performance, so the square is closed,” one policemen told AFP.

Despite the heavy security, the atmosphere remained upbeat.

“This is my son's first time to come to Tiananmen Square,” said Xiao Jin, from Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan province.

“It is not easy for China to hold the Olympic Games, so we thought that we should not miss this chance to bring him here,” she told AFP.

Elsewhere in Beijing, traffic was light and many shops were closed after authorities declared Friday a special public holiday for the city to celebrate the Games.