China planning for big anniversary

BEIJING — Beijing virtually closed its downtown Tuesday, shuttering the Forbidden City along with shops and hotels near Tiananmen Square, in preparation for an extravaganza to mark 60 years of communist rule that is expected to rival the Olympic opening ceremony.

Primarily a chance to showcase the country's might with a massive military parade, the celebrations are also to include a "civilian parade" with about 100,000 people taking part and 60 floats. Tens of thousands of doves, 5,000 balloon-toting children and a chorus of thousands are to be part of the show, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Few other details have been given on the schedule for the celebrations, but a keynote address from President Hu Jintao is expected, followed by the two parades. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, will oversee the evening fireworks display.

Many Chinese are justifiably proud of what China has achieved since the People's Republic was founded in 1949 — a transformation from an impoverished, war-wracked country to an economic and diplomatic power. Life expectancy has risen from 41 years in 1949 to 73 today. Incomes have soared, even as the population has more than doubled from 500 million to 1.3 billion.

China has been ramping up security over the past few weeks ahead of the holiday, even banning the sale of knives at some stores including large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour. City residents have been barred from flying kites as a precaution against aerial hazards.

On Tuesday, many tourist spots, hotels, restaurants and shops in downtown Beijing closed. The Forbidden City and the Great Hall of the People were shut along with many businesses located on Chang An, the major boulevard that runs east-west through the city, including the Raffles and Beijing hotels, supermarkets, Starbucks coffee shops, tiny mom-and-pop noodle stalls and tourist boutiques.