NATO summit protesters to be kept away from leaders

CHICAGO Tue Apr 24, 2012 8:40pm EDT

U.S. Secret Service agents are pictured around President Barack Obama (C) as he greets audience members after sending off the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. Secret Service agents are pictured around President Barack Obama (C) as he greets audience members after sending off the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Secret Service on Tuesday told Chicago anti-war demonstrators they will have to stay blocks from next month's NATO summit for security reasons, which protest leaders said violates their right to be within sight and sound of the delegates.

"We'll be blocks away" said Andy Thayer of the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, after meeting with the Secret Service, which is in charge of security for the two-day summit.

Protesters had expected to be about one city block from the meeting site and now will be at least two. The summit will be held at the McCormick Place convention center, a sprawling complex on Lake Michigan near downtown Chicago.

The group had earlier warned that they could file a federal lawsuit but have so far not done so. They are protesting the war in Afghanistan which is expected to be a key topic of discussion of the leaders from the NATO military alliance.

The protest is set for the first day of the summit on May 20, and they hope to draw thousands of people.

Chicago was originally supposed to host back-to-back summits of the Group of Eight and NATO. But President Barack Obama shifted the G8 summit from his hometown to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, to create a more intimate setting.

Chicago developed a reputation for being tough on protesters from the violent confrontations between police and anti-Vietnam War protesters during the 1968 Democratic convention.

More recently, a 2003 anti-Iraq war protest got out of control and police corralled hundreds of demonstrators for hours, then jailed them. Subsequent lawsuits will end up costing Chicago some $10 million, a city official said, after federal judges ruled the police were heavy-handed.

For the NATO summit the security perimeters, for which the Secret Service has ordered thousands of feet of non-scalable steel fencing and other gear, would extend for a few blocks around the convention center.

City officials had not yet been informed of the Secret Service security perimeter, a city spokesman said, and could not comment.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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