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Rome Flights Suspended During NATO-Russia Summit - 2002-05-27

No Italian airline will operate flights out of Rome airport Tuesday, during the NATO-Russia summit. The decision follows strict security measures requested by the Italian authorities.

Italy's interior ministry had said that Rome's Fiumicino airport would remain open to civilian traffic during the summit, but that airlines would be required to have unarmed guards aboard all planes.

Italy's national carrier, Alitalia, immediately decided to ground its flights during the six hours the summit is underway.

Other Italian airlines then decided to do the same. Assaereo, the association that represents Italian carriers, said the airlines had preferred to suspend their services because they were unable to fulfil the security requirements.

Flights in and out of Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport will also be seriously cut back from early in the morning until the evening. Teams of police and carabinieri will be deployed on the ground at Fiumicino and in the skies over the airport.

The measures are all part of the Italian government's tight security plan for the NATO-Russia summit. The government is taking no chances and is making every effort to avoid suicide hijackings taking place during the meeting.

The summit will take place at a military base in Pratica di Mare, just outside Rome. A navy ship anchored off the coast will also help monitor Italian airspace. Sixty kilometers of coastline will also be closed to the public.

Russia and the 19-member alliance are due to sign an accord that will make Moscow an equal partner in NATO decision-making on a limited range of security issues. Among those attending the signing ceremony will be U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says the agreement signals the end of the Cold War and will contribute to world peace.