Portugal plans tight security for papal visit

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Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to Portugal will see extraordinary security in place with authorities mindful of an attempted attack on his predecessor during his maiden trip to the country in 1982.

While officials have stressed there was "no specific threat" linked to the four-day visit which gets underway Tuesday, local media have said this could be the biggest security operation in the country's history.

"The biggest risk in terms of security could come from an isolated act," said Jose Manuel Anes, the president of the Observatory of Security, Organized Crime and Terrorism.

He cited the attack suffered by the late Pope John Paul II at the shrine of Fatima in central Portugal on May 12, 1982 when a right-wing Spanish priest lunged at the pontiff with a dagger.

The priest was tackled by police and disarmed. Pope John Paul II was visiting the shrine to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for saving his life during an assassination attempt a year earlier when he was shot in St Peter's Square by the Turkish right wing gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

In December Pope Benedict XVI himself was the victim of an assault by an apparently unbalanced woman who jumped a barrier at St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican and knocked him down before being overpowered.

Anes said "individual actions of protest" related to the paedophilia scandal rocking the Church were among the risks faced by the pope during his visit even though no cases of child abuse by priests has so far emerged in the country.

Religious authorities have ruled out searches of the faithful at places where the faithful gather to see the pope.

Police will instead rely on surveillance cameras to monitor sites where the pontiff will celebrate open air masses.

Thousands of police will be deployed to Lisbon, Fatima and Oporto, Portugal's second city, to provide security for the pope as well as for the tens of thousands of people who are expected to flock to see him.

In Lisbon and Oporto traffic and parking will be banned along the 46 kilometres (28.5 miles) route the Popemobile will take. Garbage bins will also be removed from the route.

The army will also be called in to patrol both the land and coast as well as the Tagus river in Lisbon and the Douro river in Oporto.

On entering Portuguese airspace, the pope's plane will be escorted by two F-16 fighter jets and an air force helicopter will transport the pontiff to Fatima from Lisbon and from there to Oporto where he will wrap up his visit.

Portugal will also re-imposing border controls as a security measure during the pope's visit, as it has done in other events that draw large crowds such as when it hosted the Euro 2004 football finals.

Lisbon is a signatory to the Schengen agreement, which abolishes border checks between 22 European Union nations plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland.

However, there is a clause in the treaty that allows states to temporarily re-impose border controls under special circumstances.

© 2010 AFP

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