Tight security as Mumbai hotels prepare to reopen

MUMBAI, India (AP) -- Doormen in white suits and black turbans greeted visitors to the Oberoi with a bow on the eve of the hotel's reopening three weeks after it was targeted in a militant rampage. Security was noticeably tighter Saturday as guards scanned bags and sniffer dogs patrolled the grounds outside.

Armed policemen stood watch among bunkers of sandbags outside the entrance to the hotel's Trident portion, where the owners said 100 rooms would reopen on Sunday, just weeks after 10 suspected Islamic militants stormed sites across India's financial capital.

Inside the Oberoi, private security guards manned all lobby entrances, passing bags through metal detectors and X-ray scanners. Journalists' ID cards were checked against a press list, and reporters and photographers were patted down by hand - a far cry from the relaxed atmosphere at the luxury Oberoi before the attacks.

Militants from the banned Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba are accused of staging the attacks that killed 164 people over the course of a three-day siege and paralyzed much of the Mumbai. Nine of the alleged gunmen were killed, and one is in police custody.

Two of the most high-profile targets were the sleek, sea-front Oberoi and another luxury hotel, the majestic, 105-year-old historic Taj Mahal Palace and Tower.

With Christmas approaching, both hotels have rushed to reopen sections to guests - with tighter security. The Taj Mahal Group said the tower wing of its hotel would reopen with a ceremony Sunday evening.

The main areas of the Oberoi and the Taj - left in tatters after shooting sprees and a 60-hour standoff with police - are expected to remain closed for months.

The Oberoi's Trident will be outfitted with upgraded surveillance systems and new X-ray baggage scanners. All cars will be checked thoroughly, and security guards will require guests and visitors to show ID, Trident Hotels President Rattan Keswani told reporters Saturday.

"I think all of us are concerned about a complete deterrent" to any future attacks, he said at a news conference. "We need armed presence, and we are adding to it."

The Taj, gutted by fire and destroyed by grenades, remained dark Saturday even as Christmas trees festooned with lights twinkled outside the main entrance.

"We dedicate our reopening to the city of Mumbai as affirmation of the values of courage, resilience and dignity," Raymond Bickson, chief executive of the Taj owner, Indian Hotels Co., said in a statement earlier this month.

The Taj had stepped up security even before the Mumbai attacks, in response to a deadly car bombing at the Marriott in Islamabad, Pakistan, in September - primarily to prevent a similar attack. All cars underwent checks, and metal detectors were installed at all main entrances.

The gunmen, however, slipped in through a back entrance that did not have detectors, hotel officials have said.

An hour's flight south, officials in the resort town of Goa announced a ban on holiday beach parties - a blow to the popular tourist destination in peak season.

"Taking into consideration all the aspects, we have decided that beach parties would not be allowed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 5," Goa Chief Minister Digamber Kamat said Saturday, according to Press Trust of India news agency.

The former Portuguese colony typically draws thousands of tourists at this time of year who come to party on its white sand beaches.

The Mumbai attacks exposed glaring gaps in India's security and intelligence apparatus, and the investigation has heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, with New Delhi calling on Islamabad to take stronger action against the suspected masterminds of the attack.

Pakistan, which has cracked down on a charity connected to Lashkar-e-Taiba, says India must first share evidence proving the group's complicity.

Interpol's chief, Ronald K. Noble, met Saturday in New Delhi with India's minister of home affairs, Palaniappan Chidambaram, to discuss global cooperation in the investigation.

Noble reiterated the agency's willingness to distribute the suspects' names, fingerprints, DNA profiles and photographs worldwide.

In Washington, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said U.S. officials also would offer ways to help India investigate the attacks.

"We are working through the initial parts of a package that ... we would offer to India to help them understand some of the lessons learned that we very painfully learned in the wake of our 11 September attacks - in information sharing, collaboration and cooperation," Adm. Timothy Keating told reporters Friday.

He praised India for its "very calm, measured response" in the wake of the attacks.

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Associated Press writer Jean H. Lee contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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