March 29, 2009 / 10:43 AM / 11 years ago

Strasbourg turns into fortress for NATO

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Strasbourg is shutting schools, sending out up to 15,000 troops and police, and even sealing up the manholes into its sewers as the city readies itself to host NATO’s 60th anniversary summit.

German policemen patrol on the "Two Banks Bridge" on the Rhine river between the French town of Strasbourg and the German city of Kehl March 28, 2009. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The intensive security, costing some 110 million euros ($147.4 million), is meant to protect leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and control 20,000-50,000 peace activists who are expected to stage protests.

Both protesters and politicians will have a busy agenda as they flit between Strasbourg and its German co-hosts, Baden Baden and Kehl, during the summit.

But locals are expecting gridlock on both sides of the Rhine river during the summit on April 3 and 4, as France has reinstated controls along the German border and shut some roads, while left-wing activists are expected to try and block traffic.

With authorities worried about the risk of student riots, police have evacuated Strasbourg university and will keep it closed for a week.

Students protesting against the government’s education policies had occupied the building, and university authorities feared anti-NATO demonstrators would join them.

“The potential for violence is there, it depends on the opportunity: what can be done, will be done,” Heinz Fromm, the head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, told Reuters.

Organizers of the pacifist “NATO counter-summit,” who are setting up a tent city to host thousands of activists, are angered by a ban on demonstrations in the town center.

Their main demonstration, scheduled for Saturday, has been diverted out of the center.

“That’s totally unacceptable,” said Frederic Henry, one of the spokesmen of the movement.

ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUNS

Home to the European Parliament, Strasbourg is used to visiting VIPs and extra security — though not in this scale.

Anti-aircraft guns have been installed near the city, and there will be a temporary no-fly zone, while traffic on the Rhine will also be halted.

French daily Le Monde said every resident or shopkeeper would have to wear a badge, 13 schools would be closed along with sports fields, while manholes would be sealed.

Some 6,000 delegates and other staff are expected to arrive from NATO’s 26 member states, discussing issues from future strategies for the Cold War military alliance to a potential increase of troops in Afghanistan.

Slideshow (3 Images)

France’s planned return to the military command of NATO, which it left in 1966, is also expected to be feted in style.

Faced with the prospect of protests and security controls, many residents of Strasbourg prefer to escape.

“My son’s school will be closed and there’s a risk it will be very hard to get around,” said Sylvie Fintz, who has taken a day off work to leave town with her family for a few days.

Additional reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich in Berlin; writing by Sophie Hardach in Paris; editing by Myra MacDonald

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