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Security Stepped up in Strasbourg Ahead of NATO Summit


Strasbourg is closing schools, dispatching 15,000 troops and police and sealing up manholes as the city, along with Kehl, Germany, prepares to host NATO's 60th anniversary summit. The intense security in Strasbourg is said to cost $147 million and meant to protect leaders, as well as to control 20,000 to 50,000 peace activists expected to stage protests.

A French soldier hammers a stake into the ground, to secure even more razor wire around a temporary military base in the center of Strasbourg. In fact, there is so much razor wire around the city that locals now call it "Fortress Strasbourg." Thousands of troops and police have descended on the city to secure it against violent protests during the NATO summit.

The leaders of the alliance are gathering not only to celebrate its 60th anniversary, but also to welcome France back into its military command, after a 40-year absence. French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently announced the decision to return, which has been controversial in France.

The summit agenda will look at NATO operations around the world.

French and German security forces have put the cities hosting the summit - Strasbourg in eastern France and Kehl over the border in Germany - in virtual lockdown, with border controls reinstated. Nicole Ramrath, a German policewoman, says the security measures are necessary.

"The federal police in Germany have to control the persons and their passports because to prevent demonstrators coming to Germany and doing something against German security we are doing these measures," she said.

Many protesters say they are not planning violence, but want to demonstrate to get their message across. Daniel Viesnik, an anti-NATO peace activist who traveled here from Britain, wants NATO to change.

"At the very least, NATO should revert to being purely a defensive alliance and end this mandate of being able to take aggressive action as we have seen in Afghanistan," he said.

On the streets of Strasbourg, there are mixed feelings.

A man says it is not important for France to be in NATO. He says France's membership could mean more war.

But a woman says NATO membership will foster solidarity against any attacks on member countries.

The local people are paying a price for the summit. Many businesses in the city are either closing for the summit or expecting a drop in trade, as local customers stay away.

For now, Strasbourg is on high alert and the hope is that it will remain peaceful throughout the summit.


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