05/14/2007 05:46 PM

Securing the G-8

A Taste of the Coming Showdown

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Chancellor Angela Merkel wants nothing to disturb the seaside harmony at the G-8 summit in northern Germany next month. But nationwide raids last week have upset leftist protesters of every stripe -- and set the stage for an unwanted showdown on the Baltic Sea.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks about Heiligendamm in warm, affectionate terms. The coastline is "wonderful," and so is the locals' hospitality. Merkel picked the idyllic Baltic Sea resort as a setting for this year's Group of Eight (G-8) summit of the world's leading industrialized nations from June 6-8 because it was the perfect place to convey an image of harmony to the "wider public around the globe."

German G-8 opponents were outraged by last Wednesday's police raids against members of the leftist scene. In Hamburg, things got ugly.

German G-8 opponents were outraged by last Wednesday's police raids against members of the leftist scene. In Hamburg, things got ugly.

But pictures broadcast in Germany last week weren't so pleasant. On Wednesday, around 900 police officers -- many of them masked members of special operations units -- stormed 40 apartments and offices belonging to leftists across the country. They looked for anti-globalization militants in book stores, video production studios and other left-wing centers in Hamburg, Berlin, and elsewhere. Even a theater office was raided. The main internet server of one anti-G-8 movement was also shut down.

The images were grim, and the rhetoric was downright martial: German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned of vague attacks while German federal prosecutors spoke darkly of a "terrorist network."

Across the German left-wing scene, though, the raids were a wakeup call. Around 4,000 protestors marched through Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood within hours; in Hamburg's Schanzen quarter demonstrators threw bottles and rocks. Globalization opponents in Amsterdam, Vienna and London called upon those sympathetic to their cause to head to Heiligendamm next month.

From the protesters' point of view, it's hard to imagine better publicity. The nationwide raid has sparked memories in Germany of brutal crackdowns on anti-nuclear demonstrators two decades ago. Now both police and leftists are preparing for a showdown near the Baltic: Just as the cops once had to fence off nuclear construction sites in West Germany to keep out protesters, a 12-kilometer high-tech steel fence has sealed off the summit grounds. It's already a symbol for the government's attempt to shut out public dissent.

Not postcard-pretty

This is hardly what Merkel wanted. The seaside resort near her East-German childhood home was meant to be a scenic backdrop for her shining moment among the world's elite. Merkel seems to enjoy foreign policy -- it's less frustrating than German domestic politics; it's one area where she can excel. She clearly enjoyed hosting US President George W. Bush last summer at a barbecue in the tiny village of Trinwillershagen not far from the Baltic coast, where he flattered her by saying he wanted to "look inside her soul."

But in June she also wants to avoid images like those at the 2001 summit in Genoa, Italy, where barricades burned and the police killed one young demonstrator. The federal court's justification for the raids last week showed just how high the pressure is to avoid violent protests. The concern, wrote the court, was a flareup "which could particularly damage the position of Germany as a dependable partner amid the eight most important industrial nations."

Ideally the summit will project an image as positive as the one in Gleneagles, Scotland, two years ago. Tony Blair managed to push through partial debt relief for the Third World and even garnered praise from critics like rock star-turned-poverty-campaigner Bob Geldof. But that summit was also marred -- as Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has pointed out -- by the terrorist bombings in London.

The most secure event in German history

On the agenda for this year's summit are topics like climate change, copyright protection, aid for Africa and greater transparency for international financial markets. The eight leaders, including US President George W. Bush and new French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- accompanied by 2,000 members of various government delegations -- will be tucked away on this pretty stretch of shoreline behind razorwire-topped fence. They'll be observed by 4,000 journalists, protected by 16,000 police and surrounded by up to 100,000 angry demonstrators. German organizers, in the end, will have spent almost €100 million and two years organizing the meeting.

Critics accuse G-8 leaders of pursing policies that reinforce poverty and inequality. They also claim the summit lacks democratic legitimacy. The highlight of one organized protest will be a concert by German rock musician Herbert Grönemeyer, who has taken up the efforts of U2 lead singer Bono to pressure G-8 leaders for more African aid. Lorenz Caffier, interior minister of the German state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania -- where Heiligendamm is located -- has said "all peaceful opponents of the summit are welcome." The closer the dreaded date comes, though, the more nervous local authorities seem to be.

Security will be tight at the site of the G-8 conference in Heiligendamm.

Security will be tight at the site of the G-8 conference in Heiligendamm.

The summit may well go down as the most secure event in German history. Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung will deploy nine navy ships and 1,100 soldiers. And surveillance of G-8 opponents has, at least temporarily, overshadowed efforts to combat Islamic terrorists.

At the start of 2007, Germany's domestic intelligence agency labelled globalization opponents an "operative focal point." Organizational meetings for protests at the summit were infiltrated by government informants, and in March authorities agreed to take preventative measures with other EU governments to keep a hard core of anarchists from Spain, Italy and Greece under control.

Germany will temporarily suspend the Schengen Agreement -- which allows passport-free travel among most European nations -- to set up border checks. Schäuble has also warned that police could hold potentially violent protesters in preventive custody. New mass-detention centers will be built. "Our guests have a right to demand that Germany does all it can to ensure their safety," says Wolfgang Bosbach, a conservative member of parliament and expert on security issues.

The Usual Suspects

Around this time of year, normally, the German Baltic coast begins to brim with summer tourism. But the atmosphere this May is different, at least for anyone belonging to an anti-G-8 group. Dissenters can count on being watched for hours at a time -- as one female activist from the anti-globalization group Attac recently learned. Several men in leather jackets tailed her for more than an hour until she took refuge in a police station in Rostock, the largest city near Heiligendamm. The police checked out the men and learned they belonged to Germany's domestic intelligence service.

Two other young leftists, known in Rostock as globalization critics, were stopped by police on the autobahn for two hours -- for a thorough but fruitless search of their car.

Still, last Wednesday's nationwide crackdown was less hard on young militant activists than it was on the scene's usual suspects from the past twenty years, including leftists like 68-year-old Fritz S. from Hamburg, 56-year-old Hauke B. from Berlin and the 65-year-old Armin M. from Brandenburg.

They're veterans of Germany's radical left. Fritz S., a physicist who taught regularly at a college in the northern city of Bremen, spent a year in jail in 1989 for supporting a terrorist group. All three men have been investigated over the years in several cases involving militants.

But proof that any of them have committed acts of violence is lacking. Germany's equivalent of the FBI, the Bundeskriminalamt, had to close a recent major investigation for lack of evidence. Fritz S. stood accused with 11 other suspects of sabotaging a number of German trains with metal hooks to protest the transport of nuclear waste from a processing center in France back to a depot in Germany. After phone taps, video surveillance and a number of apartment searches, federal prosecutors quietly dropped the case in 2003.

Still, prosecutors consider the three men masterminds of a clandestine network in northern Germany that has waged a militant campaign against the Heiligendamm summit since August 2005. Not even Germany's top federal prosecutor, Monika Harms, believes they were personally involved in certain nightly activities -- firebombing a Foreign Ministry guesthouse in October 2005, or torching a deputy finance minister's car in December 2006 -- but Harms does believe the old men might "at least have been involved in writing the self-incriminating messages" left at the scenes, or in recruiting young activists to commit the attacks.

Armin M., who lives in a small Brandenburg village and works against genetically modified crops, rejects the accusations. "It's all a propaganda show," he says, "that you just can't go on taking seriously."

A total of 21 suspects have been charged in the prelude to the G-8 summit. The most important piece of evidence against the three old men is a book published in 2004 called "Leftists in Motion." Its authors -- using the pseudonym "Graywacke INC" -- detail arson attacks against meetings of the International Monetary Fund in Berlin in 1988. The old leftists have now supposedly started a campaign against the G-8 summit "following this example." But Andreas Beuth, attorney for Fritz S., rejects his client's involvement in both the book and all the other charges.

In spite of such thinly-substantiated accusations, Konrad Freiberg, chairman of Germany's police union, justifies last Wednesday's raids as a pre-emptive attempt "to prevent future violence." But he admits federal prosecutors must "quickly put their evidence on the table," especially since the authorities have made several mistakes in the course of their investigations.

Consolidating the left

In 2003, a man named Jonas F. learned that federal investigators suspected him of belonging to a "militant group" after a billing mistake by his mobile provider O2 showed that his phone was being tapped. Awhile later, his name and the names of three other suspects appeared in the newspaper -- a warning the authorities tried to prevent. Another suspected G-8 opponent received an inadvertent letter from his local registry office that said federal police were investigating him for being part of a terrorist group.

These cock-ups have hurt the government's "zero tolerance for extremists" strategy -- at least politically. No sooner had federal prosecutors admitted their raids last week were aimed at "clearing up the structures" of various outfits than mainstream groups, like Attac -- which tries to distance itself from the extreme left -- showed solidarity with those being investigated. "The authorities are trying to divide the movement," says Attac co-founder Sven Giegold. "But the first indications are that they've done just the opposite."

Volker Ratzmann, an attorney and Green Party member in Berlin's city assembly, is incensed by "the thinnest search warrant I've ever seen." He says the authorities "are apparently trying to intimidate and collect more information." Even Berlin's interior minister, Erhart Körting, warns against "putting democratic protesters in the same category as a handful of criminals. That would be disastrous."

But the main result of last week's raids has been to push various factions of the left closer together. Claudia Roth, a Green Party leader who refused to back a general call to protest the summit because she couldn't support "one-sided blame" of the G-8, vehemently defended the protesters last week. She said it was "really shocking to put opponents of the G-8 summit and people critical of globalization in the same corner as terrorists" -- and marched in a protest on Wednesday in Berlin.

For her part, Merkel has tried to talk to critics. She met with Bono last week and will meet trade unionists and NGO groups on Monday. And for the last day of the summit Germany has invited the leaders of Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana to discuss the future of Africa. Representatives from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa will also come for talks about new rules for the global economy. Merkel's G-8 coordinator Bernd Pfaffenbach had hoped these events would soothe the anti-globalization crowd. The program in Heiligendamm, he said, is "not an agenda of topics that would fit the image of a club for the rich. Opponents of the summit just don't have an issue."

Maybe they didn't. Until last week.


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