NATO Summit Police Prepare Massive Security in Germany and France
German police say they've discarded the cages used to hold arrested protesters during the 2007 G-8 summit in Rostock. But even in light of relatively peaceful anti-G-20 demonstrations in London this week, they are no less on their guard as NATO begins its summit this weekend.
Fears that protests at the upcoming NATO Summit in Strasbourg in France and Baden-Baden and Kehl in Germany could easily degrade into violent clashes has led local authorities to declare a "zero-tolerance strategy" against those who disrupt peaceful protests.
Police in Germany have already increased security checks along the border between Strasbourg and Kehl.
Although demonstrations surrounding the G-20 Summit in London have mostly been peaceful, they did get violent at times, and French and German police are bracing themselves for the NATO meetings on Friday and Saturday with massive security precautions.
In Strasbourg, for example, two-thirds of the city's picturesque historical center has been sealed off from tourists and visitors, with locals only allowed to go in or out with police escorts from Thursday to Sunday. The borderless travel provisions of Europe's Schengen agreement have also been temporarily lifted to facilitate document checks in the border area during the summit. Every shopkeeper and resident is required to wear an identity badge, schools and sports fields will be closed, and manhole covers have been sealed shut to prevent their use as projectiles, the French daily Le Monde reported.
Strasbourg's cathedral is only set to be open for a single mass over the weekend, and weddings have been relocated away from the city hall. Anti-aircraft guns are aimed at the no-fly zone set up over Strasbourg, and ship traffic on the Rhine River will be suspended. Authorities also closed the city's universities for the week.
In Baden-Baden, police are setting up a total of five security zones in advance of a Friday night dinner with NATO leaders. In the innermost security zones, only summit participants, police and others with special permission will be allowed to enter. The outer zones can only be entered following a security check. On Friday all schools will be closed, along with many of the town's streets.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit will see leaders from each of the 28 NATO countries gather on Friday and Saturday for events in the cities celebrating the military alliance's 60th anniversary. The summit will also include Albania and Croatia, which officially became NATO members on Wednesday. Prominent leaders attending include US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will all make their way to Strasbourg after the close of the G-20 summit. There, they won't be met with words of welcome by all.
Much of Strasbourg's historical center, a popular site for sightseeing, has been turned into a security zone.
Police boats began patrolling the Rhine between Strasbourg and Kehl on Tuesday. Area hospitals are stocking up on supplies, and military helicopters are on standby. Some 15,000 German police and 9,000 French police will be on duty to manage the crowds during the protests.
German authorities are preparing for the presence of 20,000 to 25,000 protesters in the cities of Kehl and Baden-Baden. French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told the AP that as many as 40,000 protesters are expected around Strasbourg, including "2,000 representing a threat of violence." The city has even permitted protesters to set up a campground that can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The authorities have provided hay and tents at "Camp Ganzau" outside Strasbourg, which opened earlier this week.
Authorities are especially concerned about the so-called "Black Bloc," a group of militant anarchists known for dressing in black whose tactics include property damage and physical confrontations with police. Black Bloc anarachists were blamed for rioting in Rostock on the weekend before the 2007 G-8 Summit which injured nearly 1,000 people.
This week, German officials are estimating that 2,000 to 3,000 potentially violent Black Bloc protesters may turn out for the NATO summit.
But German police say that they have abandoned some of the tactics for which they were criticized in 2007.
"We will not be using cages," Matthias Zeiser, spokesman for the police unit that has been given responsibility for ensuring public safety in Germany during the summit, told SPIEGEL ONLINE, referring to the five-by-five meter wire enclosures that were used to hold handcuffed protesters in Rostock. "And we also have no similar facilities hidden up our sleeve."
A 2007 archive photo of a cage used for detaining violent protesters at the G-8 summit in Rostock. Police say they will not use the cages at this week's NATO summit.
"Our idea was developed in cooperation with human rights activists," said Hetger.
Protest organizer Monty Schädel, president of the German Peace Society, sees a basic problem in the assumptions of the police. "In the end it gives the following impression: The police are preparing to arrest protesters," Schädel said. "I can't call that a good thing."
Schädel has a hard time trusting the authorities at their word. "Perhaps the existence of the jail cells will only be announced once they have finally arrested people," he said.
But Hetger said his intention is exactly the opposite: "Our goal is achieved if the detention sites stay empty."
Reiner Braun, another protest organizer who also heads the German branch of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms, remains skeptical. "We heard today from one of our offices in Baden-Baden that they would be building cages," he said. "But naturally, we'd be happy if the police have since abandoned the idea."
Braun said that perhaps police had learned from peaceful demonstrations held on Monday in Freiburg, where the first anti-Nato demonstration drew more than a thousand people without incident. "The police must simply loosen up," he said.
But Hetger leaves no doubt that his people will clamp down if necessary, allowing no street blockades or similar actions whatsoever. Hetger said any potential hooligans that appear during the march over the European Bridge between Strasbourg and Kehl will be intercepted. In return, Strasbourg officials want to allow peaceful demonstrators to march into the city.
Camp Ganzau officially opened on Monday. Braun is already there -- and he's optimistic. "They set up electricity for us, it was freshly paved and totally wonderful," he said.
svs -- with reporting by Florian Gathmann and wire reports