Washington: As Washington locks down for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, airlines are putting new restrictions on passengers to the US capital amid warnings of possible political violence throughout the country even after the January 20 swearing-in.
Hotels, airlines and other businesses ramped up security as authorities planned to deploy at least 20,000 National Guard troops in the city. Activist groups concerned about the potential for violence asked hotels to close starting this weekend ahead of the event.
Members of the National Guard walk past the Dome of the Capitol Building on Capitol Hill in Washington. Thousands of guards have been deployed to the US capital.Credit:AP
Delta Airlines will not allow travellers flying to Washington area airports to check firearms on its flights before the inauguration, Chief Executive Ed Bastian said on Friday (AEDT).
"We're all on high alert based on the events over the last couple of weeks in Washington," Bastian told CNBC. He told Reuters his airline had placed 880 passengers on a no-fly list for their involvement in disruptive incidents or refusal to wear a mask to curb the spread of coronavirus. Last week, for example, supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump heckled Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney on a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Washington DC.
The Federal Aviation Administration is also cracking down on what it calls a "disturbing increase" in threatening or violent behaviour by airline passengers, putting in place a zero-tolerance policy against disruptive behaviour through March, The New York Times reported. The move comes in response to the Capitol attack and to the longer-running problem of passengers who refuse to wear masks.
Under a new order signed by its chief, Steve Dickson, the FAA plans to take legal action against passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with airline crew members, which could include fines of up to $US35,000 ($45,000) and referral for criminal prosecution. It will no longer issue warnings as a first step.
National Guard helmets sit on top of barricades as workers install razor wire to fences on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Credit:AP
Nearby roads were closed, some businesses said they would shut down next week, and the city's public transportation agency said it was closing certain metro stations and rerouting bus lines from Friday through January 21.
The National Park Service said a decision had yet to be made on whether to close the National Mall running from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The park service closed the Washington Monument to tours and Mayor Muriel Bowser asked visitors to stay away from the city.
Law enforcement officials have warned of potential violence beyond the US capital. In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine said the statehouse and state office buildings in downtown Columbus would be closed from Sunday to Wednesday.
Mary McCord, head of the Justice Department's national security division under former president Barack Obama, warned the threat could remain well beyond the inauguration.
"You will see a resurgence of activity and planning and extremists' threats. So I don't think this problem is going away with this president leaving the White House," McCord said.
The US House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on charges of incitement on Thursday (AEDT) after his supporters rampaged through the Capitol, leaving five dead, following a speech by the Republican President reiterating his false claim that Biden, a Democrat, beat him because of widespread fraud.
Federal authorities have arrested dozens of people as part of their investigation into the Capitol assault. A congressional official said the Senate Intelligence Committee would probe law enforcement agencies' handling of intelligence that preceded the attack once Democrats take control of the Senate.
More than 30 House Democrats, including New Jersey's Mikie Sherrill, have asked the acting House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the acting head of the Capitol Police for visitor logs, videos and other information about who was in the building that day.
Sherrill, who has accused Republicans of inciting the pro-Trump mob, said she saw colleagues leading groups on "reconnaissance" tours of the Capitol the day before the riot.
Reuters, The New York Times
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