The atmosphere around the NATO summit in Strasbourg. Security measures and international meetings

Friday, 10 April 2009 10:25
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by Alessandro Savaris
EPOS Notepad

The celebration for the 60th anniversary of the NATO took place in Strasbourg the 3th and 4th of April. The city centre looked particularly calm and silent during those days, with very few cars circulating, as most of the inhabitants had left the city during the meeting.The security measures taken by the police were quite strict both in the city centre as well as near the European Institutions.

Biking around the city was strangely quite easy to get very close to the red areas as well to the French Army bases where numerous batteries of ground-air missiles have been installed to protect the city air-space. The presence of armed soldiers and special forces was however quite high in those areas as well as near the numerous river channels of the city.

There were around 9.000 policemen in Strasbourg during the meeting and 1000 soldiers from the French Army, under the command of Colonel Jean –Luc Cotard, head of the French Army Information Service for the city of Metz. Moreover, they were also joined by police forces coming from various regions of the country as Versailles, Chaumont and Chalons-en-Champagne. The soldiers installed various batteries of “Crotale” ground-air missiles, able to reach a target 15 km far.

(photo 1 - The police controls the channels around the European Court of Human Rights.)

The authorities created two 'red areas': one situated in the city centre around the Rohan Palace, where the U.S. President Barack Obama and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy met during the first day of the meeting, and one around the Palais de la Musique et des Congrès, where the meeting was concluded. An 'orange area' was also created including part of the European Institutions as the Palace of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. The accesses to these areas were strictly controlled and a badge was required for the residents which were the only persons allowed to enter. Moreover, the numerous colleges and schools of the city were closed as well as the University that had been closed for 8 days.Since the 2th of April the streets of the city were blocked.The police and the army were controllingthe city air-space with various helicopters and a flying drone with infrared cameras was used to control the movements of the anti-NATO protesters.

The numerous river channels of the city were also controlled by small Army boats. Silence and a sense of calmness pervaded the city. This feeling of apparent calm was however just limited to the city centre. Other areas, in particular the districts across the Rhine and near the French-German border had to face insted numerous riots and clashes between the police and the so called black blocks. I had the feeling that two different events were going on at the same time. While the US President Barack Obama was touring around the city, meeting some students and public authorities, violent clashes were occurring in another part of the city. Just the day after the black blocks set fire to the Ibis hotel, a local post office, a pharmacy and the old customs in the Port du Rhin district, a football match was having place in another part of the city...

I would say that the controls of the police in the whole city were strict but did the people did not react angrily when undergoing them. A situation very different from the G8 Meeting that took place in Genova in 2001.I was there and remember that not only in Genova but also in the nearby city of La Spezia the tension was incredibly high when the police was checking handbags and backpacks.They were checking even the people going to the Bob Dylan concert, probably because of the high perception of risk, and this was not easing the tensions.Lessons learned for Strasbourg, where there were other problems to face.

During the NATO Summit in Strasbourg, the tension was just concentrated on the French-German border along the Rhine river and in some peripheral districts.So while the inhabitants of the city centre were waiting for the police to leave and remove the barricades, a real urban battle was going on in the other side of the city.An 'Anti-NATO Village' was settled in the Ganzau and Neuhof areas in the eastern part of the city already on the 31th of March, and a peaceful demonstration was organised to protest against the summit.

The prefecture of Strasbourg however refused, for security reasons, to let the participants enter the city, allowing them to start the manifestation ionly n the fair area of Desaix and continue it in the harbour area of Strasbourg. Between 10.000 and 30.000 persons were expected to participate, most of them coming from Germany.For this reason, the police strictly controlled the bridges that connect the French side of the Rhine river with the German one.This provoked numerous protests by the German participants to the demonstration.They reacted in the afternoon of the 1th of April, by stopping in front of the police posts on the Europe Bridge that connects the German city of Kehl and Strasbourg, completely paralyzing the road traffic.For this reason, around 50 of them were stopped at the border and were not allowed to enter France.

(photo 2 - Map of the red and orange areas. The numbers indicate the European Institutions - -)

The first violent clashes started during the night of the first day of the summit when around 300 protesters were arrested and 105 of them remained under control of the police during the whole summit. Some peaceful protesters who were dressed as clowns were able to enter the city and created a 'pink-area' where they peacefully demonstrated against the meeting.Some of them reached Place de l’Université and Rue Des Vosges in the city centre, which is very close to the barriers of one of the red areas, and were then stopped by the police. The violent riots concentrated in the Neudorf district and then in Route de Rhin e Route de Havre, near the harbour area of Strasbourg.Violent riots started also in the German city of Kehl, where the police stopped around 6.000 protesters coming from Germany.

There, the so-called black blocks were forced by the police not to cross the bridge that connects the German and the French sides of the river and this provoked their violent reaction.Some of them also infiltrated the peaceful demonstration that was moving towards the harbour area of Strasbourg.Some of them deliberately provoked the police that reacted using tear gas and water cannon against them, but unfortunately as a consequence also against peaceful participants.This caused panic.The demonstrators were escaping in every direction and the demonstration split into two parts.Part of it was then stopped near the old customs where violent protesters tried to cross the Anverse bridge and to enter the city.

The police reacted from both sides of the river, from the German as well as from the French one.The black blocks reacted setting fire and destroying the customs, an hotel, the local Post office, some tram stops and a pharmacy.The inhabitants of the district were also in panic and invoked the help of both police and firemen to stop the fire.Some of the inhabitants were also participating into the demonstration as well. Amongst them there was Jacques Muller, senator of the Green Party, who tried to stop the clashes.Route de Port du Rhin was practically split into two. One side of the street was dominated by the black blocks fighting with the police, while on the other side of the street peaceful protesters were trying to escape and join the rest of the demonstration crossing a railway bridge, but were again stopped by the police.

The mdemonstration was fragmented, and protesters were forced to leave the area passing through the police check points.At the end of the second day, numerous persons were injured, both protesters and agents, while numerous buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged by the clashes.During the following days, an intense debate started between the prefecture, that attributed the responsibility of the damages to the organizers of the demonstration, and the inhabitants of the district that accused the police tof not having stopped the violent protesters, preventing them from burning the buildings.The debate extended also to political issues.

The Greens asked to conduct an official inquiry in order to investigate the real responsibilities of the clashes, defending the peaceful protesters that were attacked by the police. Protesters are debating on how to prevent the infiltration of violent protesters -are they protesters?- in peaceful activities.The mayor of Strasbourg and senator of the French Socialist Party Roland Ries supported the inhabitants of Port du Rhin, accusing the police of not having sufficiently prevented the violence and asking also for more investigations.The Minister of Interiors Michele Alliot-Marie, however defended the police as well as the prefect of the Alsatian Region Jean-Marc Remiere that justified the late intervention of the police explaining that its main task was to protect the life of the persons more than the buildings.

A peaceful demonstration was organised on the 7th of April by the inhabitants of Port du Rhin with the support of the local politicians, trade unions and others to protest against the police.A Russian and a German protester were investigated for having caused the damages.Many commented that the Summit in the end was concluded with no real relevant decisions at international political level, but I can say that there were certainly serious, although fortunately not rovinous effects on the inhabitants of Strasbourg.


Photo:by Alessandro Savaris


Last modified on Wednesday, 11 July 2012 14:47
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