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Analysis: Small town in NATO frenzy

KEHL, Germany, April 1 (UPI) -- Citizens of the usually sleepy German town of Kehl, co-host of NATO's 60th-anniversary summit, are aching under the massive security measures that authorities are taking there.

Standing with his bicycle close to the car bridge that spans across the Rhine River to link Kehl, Germany, with neighboring Strasbourg, France, Alfred Wickers looked at the hordes of police in riot gear that amassed there Wednesday early afternoon.

Authorities had just decided to close off the bridge for an indefinite amount of time because of an anti-NATO protest march that led from Strasbourg to the bridge. No one could pass through into France anymore, and cars were piling up in front of the checkpoint in long lines.

"What a spectacle this is, and the summit hasn't even started yet," said Wickers, who owns a shoe store in Kehl's city center, just a short bicycle ride away.

This is what Kehl is all about these days: People are watching in disbelief as authorities turn this town of 34,000 into a high-security fortress.

Kehl is one of three cities hosting events for the 60th-anniversary summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which takes place April 3-4.

The summit, which comes right after a hotly anticipated Group of 20 meeting in London, is accompanied by massive security precautions.

Nearly 30,000 police are in the area, and on the German side, fighter jets, transport helicopters and paramedics from the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces, are on standby in case of major riots or a terrorist attack. Costs for securing the summit are estimated at $146 million.

The majority of the summit meetings will be held in Strasbourg, with Baden-Baden hosting a fancy gala dinner for NATO leaders Friday evening. Kehl will be the backdrop for a rather massively secured photo op of the leaders of the 28 NATO countries.

The city is also home to a sleek pedestrian bridge stretching from Kehl over the Rhine to the French side, and the summit hosts, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have grand plans for this site.

Merkel is due to greet NATO leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, on Saturday morning on the German side of the river; Sarkozy will then approach leaders from the French side, with the NATO group due to meet in the middle of the pedestrian bridge for a picture intended to symbolize the alliance's strong partnership. They will then be whisked away to Strasbourg for the nitty-gritty backroom diplomacy.

To secure the photo op, authorities are shutting down nearby airports and highways and closing off the Rhine to commercial shipping.

For roughly 700 of Kehl's citizens living close to the pedestrian bridge, the security measures won't even stop at home. They are not allowed to stand at their windows, much less step out on their balconies on Saturday morning; from Friday evening until Saturday at noon, they can only enter and leave their houses accompanied by police. Cars are banned from the streets, manholes have been sealed, and helicopters have been hovering over Kehl for days.

While neighboring Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament, is used to having big-time politicians around, life in Kehl usually is less excited. Among the highlights in Kehl is the Messdi, a yearly music, shopping and culinary festival that draws large crowds from both sides of the Rhine each spring.

Large crowds are expected again this weekend in Kehl, but some of them may not be in a party mood. Authorities expect tens of thousands of anti-NATO protesters to flock to the region to take part in demonstrations held in the three summit venues. Roughly 3,000 of those protesters, police said, are ready to use violence.

Tuesday evening in Strasbourg, some 100 individuals used stones to attack police trying to control IDs, officials said. Protesters said the police attacked them. Police responded with Taser guns and tear gas.

Authorities have already emptied a prison in Kehl to make room for violent protesters arrested over the next few days.

The small city will probably see the largest demonstration on the German side on Saturday, the so-called Easter March. Because the march will pass by Kehl's main shopping street, the Hauptstrasse, shop owners have considered protecting their storefronts with wooden planks out of fear that manic protesters would damage them.

Wickers, the shoe-shop owner, won't barricade his store, but he is already feeling the effects of the NATO summit. His shop, like so many here in Kehl, is dependent on customers crossing the border from France looking for a bargain.

Because French and German authorities have reinstated border controls, many of Wickers' customers from Strasbourg have stayed at home over the past few days; even his German customers are largely avoiding Kehl because they fear violent protesters, he said.

"Our sales have plummeted by almost 70 percent," Wickers said. "We're paying a very high price for this summit."

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Source: http://www.metimes.com/Security/2009/04/01/analysis_small_town_in_nato_frenzy/76fd/