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Academy Awards get tightest security cloak

Hollywood stars may be heroes onscreen but none of them want to be caught off-guard when they arrive for the Oscars.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2003 10:15 IST

Police sources said the security for Sunday's planned Oscars ceremony will be the tightest and most far-reaching in the Academy Awards' 75-year history, as the United States pushes ahead with its invasion of Iraq.

Flashy evening dresses and ostentatious jewels will give way to sharpshooters, undercover cops and bomb-sniffer dogs, if indeed cinema's highest awards are handed out as organisers hope, in albeit in war-muted style. "We will have plain clothes officers in among the crowd, we'll have aerial surveillance and a lot of other measures," Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton said. "We are pulling out all the stops for this show."

While officials are not aware of any specific threat against the Oscars, they are taking no chances. Among the security measures will be a no-fly zone over Hollywood during the show, the welding shut of manhole covers and the deployment of a National Guard unit trained to detect signs of biological and chemical attacks.

In addition, specially trained police and staff from the Centres for Disease Control will be out in force taking air samples to ensure that no toxins have been released into the air. An unprecedented – and secret – number of police will be backed up by some 1,000 private security guards, highway patrol officers, national guardsmen and sheriffs' deputies.

"This is aimed at addressing concerns arising from unfolding world events and to make sure that celebrities and other guests will be in the safest place in the world on Sunday," said Sergeant John Pasquariello of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Oscar organisers have vowed that Sunday's show will go on, noting that the Academy Awards have never been cancelled and have only been delayed three times in their history and never because of war.

Yet as officials promised unprecedented security to the Oscars' 3,500 guests, some celebrities are still worried about their safety."We have been flooded by requests for armoured limousines to take some very famous people to the Oscars," said Rich Cooley, vice president of global operations for SecureCar Worldwide which specializes in celebrity transport.

Cooley, a former Hollywood bodyguard, offers Mercedes and BMW limousines with 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds) of extra armour plating and bullet proof glass to ward off a close-range machine-gun assault or a grenade blast. The cars, which can cost up to 170,000 dollars and rent for more than 1,200 dollars a day, are equipped with special wheel rims that allow them to speed out of harm's way even after the tyres have been shot out.

At least one charter jet firm said its phones having been ringing off the hook as stars worry about taking commercial flights which they fear could be hijacked."Since it became apparent that we were headed towards war, we've been flooded with calls from people seeking alternative commercial airplanes," said David Bilson, head of Los Angeles-based Trans-Exec Private Jets.

Noting that renting a Gulfstream jet is "considerably more expensive than a first-class ticket on a commercial flight," he said celebrities felt safer knowing everyone on board.

First Published: Mar 21, 2003 08:58 IST