Overseas Americans to Mark July 4th
Jul. 03, 2002
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The American Business Council in Kuwait canceled an annual Fourth of July picnic. So did the American International School in Vienna.
But after much debate and some security changes, the U.S. military's 6th Area Support Group, based in Germany, decided to go ahead with an annual rodeo and festival that surrounds July 4.
With warnings at home and abroad that terrorists could target Americans celebrating their independence, U.S. citizens living in foreign countries have had to decide how to honor the holiday far away.
``Trying to decide what was correct for the American residents was the hardest,'' said Jennifer Sanders, spokeswoman for the 6th area group. ``We didn't want to stop tradition, it's a big event even for the German communities.''
On Monday, the State Department warned Americans traveling abroad to avoid clubs, restaurants, schools or outdoor events where fellow Americans gather because terrorists could choose them as a target.
The bulletin said the government has credible evidence that terrorist violence is imminent and could include suicide attacks. No specific target, timing or method is known to U.S. officials but Americans were urged to be more aware of their security while in crowds, avoid them or find other places that don't attract many Americans.
But crowds of Americans living all over Asia, Europe and the Middle East were still planning to gather for fireworks and barbecues.
``Every time Americans come together nowadays, people feel patriotic,'' said Joanne Blakemore, president of the American Association in Singapore. ``Maybe that's one of the good things that came out of Sept. 11.''
Guests joining celebrations at an American military installation in Singapore were asked to leave backpacks and coolers at home when they get together on July 6th. The event is expected to draw U.S. sailors and many of the 18,000 Americans living in the city state where authorities last year uncovered a plot to attack American naval ships.
U.S. facilities overseas have been on a continual state of alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on American. Embassies are heavily guarded and in some cases, even barricaded. American schools, clubs and places of worship have increased security too, especially after recent attacks in Pakistan on the U.S. consulate and a church.
With so few Americans left in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, the U.S. Embassy is not planning any public affair. Embassy dependents and nonessential staff were evacuated due to terror threats and the India-Pakistan crisis. Many private groups, including missionary organizations and businesses, pulled people out between Sept. 11 and the start of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
Elsewhere in the region, vigilance mixed with resilience as American prepared for July 4th.
``We are going to celebrate our Independence Day come hell or high water but we will be on high alert,'' said Sheila Hoban, spokeswoman for the embassy in Katmandu, Nepal.
The Bush administration said Sunday that Americans should take extra care on the Fourth of July because the national holiday is an attractive symbol to potential terrorists. The FBI plans to monitor and protect major Independence Day parades and festivities at home.
``There have been a variety of ... intelligence reports that suggest we ought to be especially vigilant as we go into the Fourth of July season,'' Secretary of State Colin Powell said.
Andrew Somers, head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, said his group will double the number of security guards for its an annual bash, which attracted 11,000 people last year.
``We're not going to be naive about (a threat). I think it's remote, but who knows.''
Both the U.S. Embassy and the Russian government are advising the group on security needs for the celebration, which will be held on July 6 on the lawns of a former noble estate.
Privately hired guards and Moscow police will be outfitted with hand-held metal detectors. ``If somebody looks funny, they'll give them a frisk,'' Somers said.
In the Philippines, U.S. troops will spend the day actively engaged in the war on terrorism.
``It'll be a work day, I'll celebrate in my heart,'' said Air Force Maj. Richard Slater.
In Paris, where authorities say they uncovered a plot shortly after Sept. 11 to bomb the U.S. Embassy, celebrations will be more low key.
``In past years we have had picnics, or a huge party in a castle with different games, or a cruise down the Seine'' river in Paris, said Helen Sullivan of the American Club in Paris. ``But this year it will be much simpler, with just a cocktail party at a private club.''
Some hosts chose to alert guests to security changes ahead of time.
Invitations to the U.S. Embassy party in Australia were accompanied with an apology: no chauffeur-driven vehicles would be permitted into the Embassy compound this year. Passengers were requested to enter ``on foot.'' Other Embassy invites warned guests that photographs would be limited to specific rooms and that vehicles would be searched.
The American International Club in Geneva, Switzerland, was preparing to counter threats from an anti-globalization group, which plans to disrupt Fourth of July celebrations to protest a range of U.S. policies.
``We will be increasing security measures outside the grounds and inside to ensure no one is disturbed, particularly by demonstrations,'' said Pierre Imfeld, the director of the American club. The annual celebration is held at a Geneva stadium where last year's fire works display drew a crowd of 35,000.
The American International School in Vienna canceled its event altogether. The country's interior minister, Rudolf Gollia, downplayed the importance of July 4th, noting that the terrorist attacks on the United States occurred on a date with little significance to Americans.
For the 6,500 Americans who work in Kuwait as teachers, business consultants and executives, celebrations will likely be smaller, more private affairs since the American Business Council canceled the annual picnic.
``We were very disappointed there won't be one this year,'' said Nancy Abbas, who turns 46 on July Fourth. ``Last year, 130 people came. We had a barbecue, games for the kids, camel rides and a D.J,'' said Abbas, who hails from Eldorado Hills, Calif. and has lived in Kuwait since 1997.
EDITORS: Associated Press reporters in Europe, Asia and the Middle East contributed to this report.