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Nation celebrates independence with parades, music and fireworks as it welcomes new citizens

    NEW YORK — Fireworks crews checked the wiring for their displays and hundreds of people took their citizenship oaths Wednesday on a Fourth of July marked by tight security.
    New York’s pyrotechnics display, billed as the nation’s biggest with 40,000 fireworks, had a novelty ready draw oohs and aahs from this year’s crowd: exploding shells aimed down, not up.
    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.
    In the nation’s capital, security was heightened following recent attempted car bombings in Britain. Hundreds of emergency responders from about 20 law enforcement agencies were on duty, authorities said. Officers were urged to be on alert for vehicles with suspicious characteristics such as protruding wires or an unusual odor.
    As with past July 4 festivities since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Washington’s mall was fenced off and visitors were required to pass through 19 security checkpoints, which opened at 10 a.m.
    ‘‘We’re expecting a record crowd to come out this year and enjoy the fireworks,’’ said U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Lachance. Crowds have reached 500,000 people or more in the past.
    Dry weather curtailed some fireworks programs in the West. Breckenridge, Colo., canceled its show because of the high fire danger. In Washington state, private fireworks were banned in Seattle, Tacoma and parts of Spokane.
    In the South, some cities across Georgia discussed canceling fireworks displays because of a drought, but two big shows stayed on the schedule for Atlanta, one downtown and one at Lenox Square in Buckhead.
    Festivities got under way early in Atlanta with the Peachtree Road Race, which draws about 55,000 runners and is the largest 10K in the nation.
    In Iraq, where the Fourth of July was business as usual for the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops, some said their service made them more appreciative of the holiday.
    ‘‘This is a good place to celebrate the Fouth of July,’’ Sgt. Jesse Jones, 24, of Olympia, Wash., who is serving with the 2nd Infantry Division in Baqouba. ‘‘Not only are we celebrating independence, we’re fighting for independence, too.’’
    About 1,000 people from around the globe became U.S. citizens at Walt Disney World, raising their right hands in front of Cinderella’s castle at the Magic Kingdom as the oath was read by Emilio Gonzalez, head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
    ‘‘I dreamed for this moment for 13 years, and finally this is my last dream that I have,’’ said Marta Hima, who came from Colombia and now lives in Davenport, Fla. ‘‘All my dreams come true in this country. All the things I have in this country I never had in mine.’’
    It took more than three minutes just to read aloud the names of all the participants’ home countries at Disneyland.
    The youngest was 11-month-old Sofia Costa, a newly adopted native of Guatemala.
    ‘‘It’s an amazing memory for her. One day when we talk about the whole journey — when she was born to where she is — it’ll be an amazing piece to be able to share with her,’’ Sofia’s mother Heather Costa said.
    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.
    More than 110,000 naturalization applications were filed in April, nearly double the 66,039 applications filed in April 2006, according to federal statistics.
    More than 4,000 people in all were expected to take their citizenship oaths this week, the government said.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Moises Mendoza in Phoenix and Travis Reed in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., contributed to this report.

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