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Activists to Appeal Protest Bans Outside German Security Conference - 2002-02-01

Defense officials and security experts from 43 countries gather this weekend in Munich for Germany's annual International Security Conference (Feb. 2-3). But the event is dogged by a controversial ban on protests in the city's streets.

The annual security conference will likely get more attention than usual this year, as officials from the United States, Russia, Europe and Asia gather to discuss their military needs in the light of the war against terrorism.

The international security landscape has changed since the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. And this will also be the first such international gathering since President George Bush made a speech earlier this week naming Iraq, Iran and North Korea as "threats to the peace of the world."

Conference chairman Horst Teltschik has reportedly been told that the United States, whose delegation will be led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, intends to mention Iraq at the meeting.

Others attending include Russia's defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, Germany's Rudolf Scharping, Britain's Geoff Hoon and the French minister Alain Richard as well as their counterparts from India, Pakistan, China and some of the Central Asian countries.

And beyond terrorism there are plenty of areas of contention. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson, who is also attending, has made it clear in recent speeches and articles he wants NATO nations to increase military spending and beef up their abilities to work together as an alliance.

Meanwhile, the Russians are upset at the U.S. attitude on a wide range of disarmament issues as well as Washington's plans to develop a missile defense system.

Yet, perhaps the most controversy is likely to center on events outside the conference. Anti-NATO and anti-globalization protesters have said they will appeal to Germany's constitutional court against a ban on demonstrations imposed for the duration of the meeting.

So far efforts to stop the ban in the regional courts have failed as judges in Bavaria have upheld the city's argument that large protests are a threat to security. But some have said they will go ahead with their demonstrations even if the constitutional court rules against them.

Munich police are taking no chances as they expect thousands of possibly violent protesters to defy the ban. Security is tight and water cannon, armored personal carriers and additional manpower will be deployed to try and keep the violence in check.

The conference concludes Sunday.