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India grim, antsy on Republic Day

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NEW DELHI, India — India celebrated its birth as a republic on Saturday with heavily-armed troops on the streets and unprecedented security amid fears of fresh violence and a military stand-off with nuclear neighbor Pakistan.

As hundreds of people walked into central New Delhi for the annual Republic Day parade, traditionally a display of military might, police and soldiers guarded major intersections and patrolled the streets as airforce helicopters flew over the city.

Republic Day is India's main national holiday, and authorities fear militants may time an attack for maximum impact on a nation still shaken by a December raid on its parliament and this week's attack on a U.S. cultural office in the city of Calcutta.

The main 90-minute parade in the capital will be scaled down this year because most of India's military have been deployed along the border with Pakistan in a tense face-off over Pakistan-based militants.

India has demanded Pakistan crush the groups, which it blames for the parliament attack and has linked to the Calcutta raid, and hand over 20 alleged terrorists and criminals.

In New Delhi, snipers have been placed on all high-rises in the area, private traffic has been banned around the parade route, roads sealed off and commandos with AK-47s and bulletproof vests are on alert in makeshift posts made from sandbags.

People have been told they must carry identification if they venture onto the streets.

Extra forces are on guard around the nation, especially in disputed Kashmir and the restive northeast.

The annual Jan. 26 celebrations marking India's founding as a republic soon after independence from Britain in 1947 have in the past been marred by violence in both areas.