Securing the G-8 A Taste of the Coming Showdown

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.

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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.


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