David Fickling

NEW YORK: New York's Central Park has faced its share of threats over the years, from violent criminals lurking in the bushes to an alligator hiding in one of its ponds. But the city's park authorities have now committed themselves to rooting out a more persistent weed - crowds of people.

From Sunday they began restricting the size of gatherings on the Great Lawn, a 13-acre oval field in the centre of the park encompassing baseball fields, football pitches and playgrounds.

Over the years the Lawn has played host to million-strong crowds for performers including Paul Simon and Luciano Pavarotti, and in 1995 Pope John Paul II held an outdoor mass there.

But the regulations passed by New York's parks department mean that in future the Lawn can host only six events a year with more than 5,000 persons. None of those events will be allowed to admit more than 50,000, and four of the slots are reserved for outdoor concerts by the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The Lawn has been torn by controversy in recent years. In 2004 it became the centre of a bitter courtroom battle after anti-war protesters were refused permission to stage a demonstration there. -

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004