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November 1, 2012

China bans toy planes, pigeons to secure congress

BEIJING — Don't roll down the taxi windows. Don't buy a remote-controlled plane without a police chief's permission. And don't release your pigeons.

Beijing is tightening security as its all-important Communist Party congress approaches, and some of the measures seem downright bizarre. Kitchen knives and pencil sharpeners reportedly have been pulled from store shelves, and there's even a rumor that authorities are on the lookout for seditious messages on pingpong balls.

The congress, which begins Nov. 8, will name new leaders to run the world's most populous country and second-largest economy for the next decade. Most of the security measures have been phased in in time for Thursday's opening of a meeting of the Central Committee, the roughly 370-member body that is finalizing preparations for the congress.

China always tightens security for high-profile events, like much of the rest of the world. London, for instance, restricted air traffic during the Olympics.

But many of Beijing's rules seem extraordinary, perhaps in an effort to smooth a once-a-decade transition that has already been bumpy.

Bo Xilai, once a candidate for the all-powerful Politburo's Standing Committee, suffered a spectacular fall from grace in which his wife was convicted of murder. One of President Hu Jintao's closest aides was demoted, apparently after his son was killed alongside two partially dressed women in an accident in his Ferrari. Meanwhile, protests over pollution, land seizures and local corruption continue across the country.

Human rights groups report that activists and petitioners are being rounded up ahead of the congress. But the broader security measures may best illustrate how China is trying to leave absolutely no room for disruptions.

The government has blocked searches for the phrase "18th Party Congress" on websites including China's popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo. Internet posters manage to get around that by using characters that sound like "party congress." One substitute: "Sparta."

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