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EU Leaders Meet in Ghent Friday - 2001-10-18

Leaders of European Union nations will meet Friday in the Belgian city of Ghent - to try to sustain the momentum of the fight against international terrorism and to debate how to stabilize a post-war Afghanistan. Belgian police are expecting tens-of-thousands of demonstrators to show up in Ghent and call for an end of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

Ever since last month's terrorist attacks in the United States, the anti-globalization movement appears to be changing its message and trying to refrain from violence.

At the last EU summit in the Swedish city of Gothenburg in June, and at the Group of Eight industrial powers summit in the Italian port of Genoa in July, protests against capitalism degenerated into violence. But the myriad groups that make up the movement say violence is now out, and that they plan to peacefully demonstrate against the air strikes against targets in Afghanistan.

Ghent Mayor Frank Beke says 4,000 police officers will be on duty, but that their presence will be low key. Mayor Beke thinks the protests this time will be peaceful. "Demonstrations will be less violent, because the so-called anti-globalists will have noticed, will have learned, that there is no more public support for violence, certainly not since the 11 of September, because people are frightened nowadays," he says. "And I just hope that they will use their brains, and that they will demonstrate in a peaceful way."

The first cracks in the firm EU support for the United States have appeared in the past few days, with some governments expressing concern about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and anti-war demonstrations in European cities. But at a meeting in Luxembourg Wednesday, the bloc's foreign ministers reaffirmed complete solidarity with Washington.

Annemie Neyts, the number two official in Belgium's foreign ministry, is warning protest organizers not to let demonstrations in Ghent turn violent, as they did in Gothenburg.

"Some of the organizers of the big demonstrations, while condemning the violence, at the same time were clearly and fully aware of the fact that, had there not been that violence, there wouldn't have been the same amount of attention to their demonstrations," he says.

Although the Ghent summit was originally supposed to focus on economic issues, the campaign against terrorism is certain to dominate discussions. The EU leaders are expected to stress the need for military action to be carefully targeted against the perpetrators of the attacks in the United States and those that harbor them. They are also likely to call on the United Nations to take a lead role in creating a stable new government in Afghanistan, once the ruling Taleban is removed from power.