SYDNEY (Reuters) - Eggs, tinned food, reptiles and surfboards will be banned in parts of Brisbane this week as Australia’s biggest peacetime deployment of police and soldiers braces for everything from unruly protests to mass hostage-taking at the Group of 20 summit.
Bomb-detecting robots will be on hand, along with a drone for crowd surveillance, as U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping join other leaders from the world’s richest nations in Australia’s third-largest city.
The operation involving 6,000 police and 1,900 troops will be a high-visibility balancing act between protecting the world’s most powerful leaders at a time of heightened terrorism fears and showcasing what Australia hopes will be seen as its tolerance for political dissent.
The G20 meeting in Toronto four years ago is considered the summit’s greatest public relations disaster with over 1,100 protesters arrested in a week amid reports of police brutality.
“Wherever there’s been a major event, we’ve taken those lessons and we’ve implemented what we think should be in our plans from those lessons, particularly what happened in Toronto,” said Katarina Carroll, Queensland state assistant commissioner and head of G20 security. “Police officers know that it’s everyone’s right to protest.”
Police have spent two years talking to protest groups, from climate change campaigners to those angry about suspected
Russian involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. There are 27 groups authorised to protest at designated areas near the summit venue.
Special G20 laws make it an offense to carry more than 50 ordinarily innocuous items in designated parts of the city, including surfboards, frozen eggs, reptiles and toy cars, since they can be used as weapons.
Three local courts will be on call 24 hours a day so potentially high numbers of arrested protesters can apply for bail quickly.
In September, Australia raised its terror threat level to “high” for the first time ever, due to what it said was the risk of attacks on the public by home-grown militants.
Officials said then they had no specific threats relating to the G20 but security at Australia’s parliament was tightened after a gunman killed a guard and then stormed Canada’s parliament last month before he was shot dead.
Troops from an Australian commando unit have spent weeks before the November 15-16 summit rehearsing counter-terrorism strikes for Brisbane’s most complex buildings using Black Hawk helicopters, armoured vehicles and rifles with night vision.
“The high-end scenario is a terrorist hostage event,” said Australian Defence Force Major General Stuart Smith. “We have standing forces that, if requested to do so, can assist the police in that.”
Editing by Lincoln Feast and Raju Gopalakrishnan