NEW YORK — Americans celebrated Independence Day on Wednesday amid heightened security following attempted car bombings in Britain, and thousands of immigrants became U.S. citizens at ceremonies around the country.
In Washington, D.C., security was increased on the National Mall as organizers sought to reassure visitors.
Hundreds of emergency responders from about 20 law enforcement agencies were on duty, authorities said. A police helicopter was to monitor crowds from above, and officers were urged to be on alert for vehicles that looked suspicious, for instance with protruding wires or an unusual smell.
As with past July 4 festivities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the mall was fenced off and visitors will be required to pass through security checkpoints.
Independence Day festivities in Washington include a parade on Constitution Avenue, a concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on the West Lawn of the Capitol and a 20-minute fireworks show.
In New York, the Fourth of July fireworks display billed as the country's biggest introduces a pyrotechnic novelty: exploding shells aimed at the water, not the sky.
The so-called nautical shells are supposed to explode on the surface of the East River, remaining illuminated for a few seconds before fading out, said Robin Hall, executive producer of the Macy's Fourth of July display.
Politics goes on
In Iowa, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton walked hand in hand with her husband Bill in a sunny, postcard-perfect holiday parade in the north-central lakeside town of Clear Lake. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, also marched.
Iowa is among the earliest presidential delegate-selection states, and many White House aspirants already have campaigned there.
Dry weather conditions have curtailed the use of fireworks in several areas around the country, including parts of Colorado and Washington state.
Before the fireworks began, thousands of immigrants were sworn in as new American citizens during special ceremonies across the country.
At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, about 1,000 people took the oath of citizenship at a "Dreams Come True" ceremony near Cinderella's castle. Gloria Estefan sang the national anthem and Lee Greenwood closed the hour-long event with "God Bless the USA" as fireworks brightened a rainy, gray morning sky.
The youngest new American there was 11-month-old Sofia Costa, a Guatemalan native who was just adopted. She wore a red polka dot hat and stayed shyly in her parents' arms.
In Boston, some immigrants planned to take their oath on the USS Constitution, the Navy's oldest commissioned warship.
Surge in applications
Although July 4th citizenship ceremonies are an annual event, officials have seen a surge in applications this year as the naturalization process has been streamlined and applicants race to beat fee increases, said Marie Sebrechts, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman.
There were more than 110,000 naturalization applications filed in April, nearly double the 66,039 applications filed in April 2006, according to federal statistics.
More than 4,000 people in all are expected to take their citizenship oaths this week, the government said.
Some of the armed officers with dogs that turned up this week around airports, subways and bus stops are part of special Transportation Security Administration teams sent to protect mass transit sites over the July Fourth holiday.
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