Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Taking the term "Out of touch" to a new level

G8-Fortress Heiligendamm

Police patrol the site of G8 summit in the Baltic coast city of Heiligendamm. An estimated 100,000 protestors from anti-globalisation and anti-war groups will gather in this northeastern German port to show their opposition to the G8 summit.

by Stefan Nicola

The 19th-century Grand Hotel in this German resort is usually a hot spot for wealthy Baltic Sea tourists, who can enjoy five-star-plus service and a stretch of sandy beaches just a stone's throw from their rooms. For the Group of Eight summit, however, Heiligendamm has been turned into a high-security fortress.

At first glance, it looks somewhat surreal: a large, seemingly endless metal fence crowned with razor-sharp barbwire tearing through Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania's green and lush fields. The biggest barrier in Germany since the Berlin Wall, the $20 million monster is the main gadget in Germany's ambitious security concept for the G8 summit, which kicks off Wednesday. Some 7.5 miles long and 8 feet tall, the fence is designed to protect the leaders of the world's eight richest countries.

Germany has deployed more than 16,000 police to the area, and 1,100 military personnel are stationed in the vicinity on airfields or on one of the nine German navy vessels equipped with mine detection systems that patrol the coast. It is one of the biggest domestic military deployments and by far the biggest police mission in Germany's post-war history. Some 4,000 journalists are accredited to cover the summit, mainly from the International Media Center in nearby Kuehlungsborn, a big building that has been put up in a few weeks.

"Our guests have a right to demand that Germany does all it can to ensure their safety," Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior lawmaker of Merkel's conservatives and one of its security experts, recently told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Signs of how serious Germany takes this event pierce the road from Berlin to Heiligendamm: As soon as you come close to the Autobahn exit Laage, which slopes toward the airport where U.S. President George W. Bush's Air Force One landed Tuesday, dozens of police cars (including armored vehicles) drive or stand every 500 yards or so by the side of the road and at several checkpoints. The total number of police cars must be in the hundreds. As this reporter passed the Laage exit, five large military helicopters hovered over the highway toward an airfield where an unusually high number of fighter jets was stationed. The closer you come to Heiligendamm, the more the area -- despite its vast green fields that are dotted by red and yellow spring flowers -- resembles a war zone.

At the end of the three-day summit, Germany will have spent more than $135 million, making the G8 in Heiligendamm the most expensive and most heavily secured single-venue event in Germany's history.

Officials say the security measures are justified. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has pointed to the security precautions that accompany any event that summons the likes of U.S. President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin; he has also noted the constant terror threat that the event is under. On July 7, 2005, during the Gleneagles summit, Islamist terrorists detonated several bombs in London's mass transit system.

Besides terrorism, there is another threat that has proven to be very real over the past couple of days.

Some 100,000 demonstrators are estimated to be in the region, and this past Saturday protests turned violent in Rostock, a northeastern German port city some 12 miles from the G8 summit venue Heiligendamm, where most of the anti-globalization events are staged.

Armed with large stones, bats and Molotov cocktails, some 3,000 black-clad men and women from the radical far-left scene Saturday clashed with thousands of baton-wielding riot police equipped with tear gas and water cannons. By the end of the day, nearly 1,000 people had been injured.

The riots come a month after German authorities launched massive coordinated police raids in six German states in an investigation against what Berlin sees as far-left terror groups wanting to disrupt the G8 summit. The Left has criticized the raids as trying to criminalize otherwise legitimate protest movements, and the move has led to more unity among the protest groups, observers say.

Yet officials say the raids were necessary: The past months have seen more than 50 anti-G8-related arson attacks, mainly in Hamburg and Berlin, the most publicized of which targeted the home of the deputy finance minister and the car of the editor in chief of Bild, Germany's conservative mass-selling daily.

Authorities are bracing for more violence during the summit: Some 2,000 of the most violent activists are still in the region, and they are apparently taking up chemical warfare tactics: Dressed as clowns, a far-left group has used water pistols to squirt a chemical fluid at police officers, several of whom had to be taken to a hospital for treatment.

Original article posted here.

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