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17 Mar, 2009 09:10

Tension mounts in Strasbourg as NATO summit approaches

Tension mounts in Strasbourg as NATO summit approaches

The French authorities have revealed more about the unprecedented security measures for the NATO conference from 3rd-5th April.

At a much-delayed news conference, the Mayor of Strasbourg said he wants a “genuinely open and democratic debate about France reintegrating NATO, which has not happened so far”.

The head of the French government in Strasbourg, the Prefect, said that special permission has been granted to France and Germany to suspend the Schengen Accords that guarantee free passage for all EU citizens.

From the 15th March, frontier controls will be in place on the Franco-German border. But the authorities have conceded the right for demonstrators to assemble on the Bridge of Europe that joins France and Germany after the official ceremony there, although they continue to insist on conditions for the Anti-NATO village that will prove too difficult to fulfil.

Lysiane Rolet, a spokeswoman for the demonstrators commented, “the [French government in Strasbourg] are asking us if we can control everything. That’s impossible. But if by using these conditions they forbid the village then the chances are nothing will be controlled at all.”

A senior security official said privately that the village would be accepted and helped by the authorities “because the alternative will be tens of thousands of demonstrators milling about with nowhere to go.”

The Prefect admitted that some anti-NATO demonstrators said they intend to block the passage of official delegations at the summit. He would not say how many police and military will be used, but figures of 45,000 have been quoted, with 70 helicopters and two AWAC aircraft securing the skies.

All building sites are to be closed and anything that could be used as missiles are to be removed – including piles of gravel. The headquarters of the French government in Strasbourg, the prefecture, has been reinforced with a new shockproof glass barrier.

No gatherings near the centre are to be allowed. When asked what a ‘gathering’ was, the senior official responsible for security said that, under French law, this meant “any group of more than three people”. 10,000 barriers are to be put in place over a total of 30 kilometres. A huge traffic diversion scheme will be imposed, sending vehicles hundreds of kilometres out of their way.

The more open German authorities say 12,000 police will guard the much smaller city of Baden-Baden. But in the red zones in both Baden-Baden and Kehl, residents will not be allowed to leave their houses on the 3rd and 4th of April without good reason, and even then will have to be escorted by police officers.

After the news conference I spoke to Robert Hermann, the Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg who represents the Mayor on planning and security for the summit.

Q: The Mayor of Strasbourg, Roland Ries, says he’s been surprised by the extent of the security measures being put in place for the forthcoming NATO summit. What exactly did he mean?

Robert Hermann: No he did not say that…

Q: That is what he is quoted as saying.

Robert Hermann: Well yes, but he did not mean to say that he disapproved of the extent of the security measures being put in place. It is just that he had not realised what would be involved in providing security at an international summit.

Q: Is it fair to say that NATO, the European Union and the West are very quick to criticise Russia and other countries when they control illegal demonstrations but when you have the same problems in the West, you do exactly the same?

Robert Hermann: I can’t argue with that.

Q: Strasbourg is the seat of the 49-member Council of Europe of which NATO members are only a minority. Yet the French authorities will not say how much they are spending on the official summit. At the same time they are demanding the Anti-NATO conference should pay all the bills for their village while at the same time banning them from the centre of the city. Do you think this is fair?

Robert Hermann: No I don’t, but that is the way it is in France. I must say that the Mayor and I think that there should be a free, a genuinely open and democratic debate about France reintegrating NATO, which has not happened so far…

Q: There is the debate in the National Assembly on the 17th March…

Robert Hermann: Yes, but as the government felt it necessary to make it a vote of confidence on which the survival of the government depends, they made sure that there cannot be a free vote and they cannot lose. That is not democracy.

Q: Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us.

Robert Hermann: It was a pleasure.

Robert Harneis for RT