Police at full strength for Armed Forces Day

A VAST police operation comparable in scale to last year's papal visit will be rolled out across Edinburgh today as a series of events celebrating the Armed Forces get under way.

Up to 100,000 people are expected to descend on the capital between now and Sunday as it plays host to the third annual Armed Forces Day.

The biggest event of its kind, it will involve thousands of personnel from the army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy along with VIP guests including the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay. About 300 officers from Lothian and Borders Police will be deployed throughout the city, with a "significant" number in reserve should they be required.

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Veteran policing experts expressed confidence the force would make the day a success, but said it would have to remain alert for potential protests against the military.

Chief Superintendent Gill Imery, tactical commander for the event, told The Scotsman that the policing operation would be on a par with other recent, high-profile events.

She said: "It's certainly up there with the papal visit, the climate camp protests at Gogarburn, and the Scottish Defence League demonstration and the associated protests last year. It's an event of UK significance."

While there is no intelligence regarding specific threats from groups looking to stage demonstrations, the force will be assisted by Ministry of Defence Police and Royal Military Police braced for any protests over the weekend.

Although the day is designed to honour and celebrate those who serve and have served in the Armed Forces, previous events in parts of Scotland have been marred by demonstrators.

During the inaugural Armed Forces Day in 2009, for example, a related parade in Glasgow's George Square turned sour and 13 people were arrested.

Ms Imery, divisional commander for the City of Edinburgh, added: "There have been no applications received by the council for organised protests, but we're very mindful that because of the profile of the event and the attention it'll attract, there's always a possibility that someone will seek to exploit that for whatever purpose.

"We have contingency plans in place, and have a significant number of officers in reserve."

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The main event will involve a parade of up to 2,500 military personnel on Saturday, which will see veterans and cadets marching down the Royal Mile from the Castle Esplanade to Holyrood Park.

Tom Wood, former deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders, said: "There might be some protests and demonstrations against the military, and the police will have to watch very carefully for that.

"But the route for the main parade is one of the oldest such routes in Scotland. Yes, there are narrow contained streets, but the force has huge experience in these events, and they're not going to experience anything they haven't before."

Other high-profile guests who will be in Edinburgh for Armed Forces Day include First Minister Alex Salmond, Defence Secretary Liam Fox and Scotland Secretary Michael Moore. Senior military officials such as General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, will also be in attendance.

The itinerary will also result in widespread road closures and waiting restrictions across swaths of the city.

Jenny Dawe, the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, said the capital was renowned for hosting large event, and said it should be a "huge success".