Spain goes into anti-terror lockdown ahead of Three Kings celebrations

Floats play a key role in the festivities

The celebration is marked by celebrations across the country

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Festivities are set to begin across Spain later today in celebration of Los Reyes Magos, the country's biggest festive event - but terrorism fears are casting a gloomy pall over events.

The celebration, whose name translates as The magic kings, has traditionally been even more important than Christmas Day. Spain's answer to epiphany, it begins tonight with parades in all major municipalities, local residents riding on floats dressed as the three kings as well as popular children's characters. Sweets and presents are thrown to the crowd in a carnival atmosphere that brings the curtain down on the festive period.

However the recent atrocity at a Christmas market in Berlin, which left 12 people dead, has prompted widespread security concerns and forced officials to put all major cities in lockdown.

In both Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's most iconic metropoles, trucks weighing more than 3,500 kilos have been banned throughout the city centre, after heavy goods vehicles were used to cause carnage in Berlin and the French city of Nice in 2016. Anyone caught driving such a vehicle inside the security perimeter faces sanctions, and any vehicles parked inside the security zone will be removed.

Huge numbers of armed police will be in place across the country. In Madrid, for example, the Reyes celebrations will be overseen by around 800 officers as well as 300 members of SAMUR, the city's civil defence agency.In Valencia, meanwhile, up to 40% more officers will be on duty than normal.

Then, of course, there are the floats, which throw up an obvious security risk of their own. In Pamplona, home of the San Fermin bull-running festival, every single float will be attended by at least 16 officers, while drivers have been checked and verified in various cities to ensure they do not present a security risk.

Some municipalities have taken their precautions to the extreme and removed the roads from the equation altogether. In the northern city of Logrono, at the heart of the La Rioja wine-growing region, the Reyes characters will be taken to the local football stadium, the centrepiece of the celebrations, by helicopter. In Las Palmas, meanwhile, they will be spirited into the city centre by boat.

Yet despite all the precautions, there's no guarantee this quintessentially Spanish celebration will pass without incident. The country is not as exposed to terrorism as northern European countries such as France, Belgium and Germany, but the risk is growing. Last September, reports suggested that Barcelona was becoming an epicentre for groups such as Islamic State, and the rise of illegal immigration in Andalucia continues to prompt major concern.

After the spate of atrocities which ripped through Europe last year and confounded the most rigorous of security plans, Europe's most fun-loving country will remain on edge until this year's festivities are finally concluded.