Protests, security to greet Nato summit

2012-05-15 12:01

Chicago - Mass protests and an intense security lockdown will greet leaders of 50 countries gathering in Chicago this weekend for the Nato summit, with organisers ever mindful of violence at recent global events.

Fears that demonstrations could turn violent have put the city on edge, with some downtown businesses even telling office workers to ditch their suits and ties and dress down to avoid being hassled or targeted on the streets.

Proof of such concerns came on Monday when eight protesters were arrested after refusing to leave the office tower that houses President Barack Obama's election campaign headquarters.

But police and protest organisers have vowed that there will be no repeat of the trouble that erupted at events such as G20 summits in London and Toronto or the riots which scarred Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

Officers will be stationed at sensitive sites such as the Federal Reserve, banks and businesses such as Starbucks that have previously been targeted, with parade routes and smaller protests also being monitored for troublemakers.

"You're going to see a very large uniformed police presence. That's really the key to success," said Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. "We've trained for this is what it boils down to.

Less intense

"What you'll see is identification, isolation and extraction from the crowd so we can arrest criminals while at the same time allowing everyone else to peacefully express their freedom of speech."

The decision to move the G8 summit on the same weekend from Chicago to Camp David is expected to lessen the intensity of demonstrations - and the disruptions - in Obama's adoptive home town.

But protest organisers say there are plenty of good reasons to take to the street and send a message to world leaders and reporters attending the summit.

"Bailouts and bonuses for the banks, austerity for the rest of us, that's been the prescription of the 1% and far too many among the G8," said Karen Higgins, co-president of National Nurses United, which is sponsoring a major march on Friday.

"No wonder they have run off to seclusion at Camp David," she said. "They won't be able to avoid the 99% for long if they don't take meaningful action to heal the US and global economies."

The nurses and more than 100 other organisations - including groups from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Canada, Korea and Guatemala - will be pressing for a "Robin Hood" tax on financial transactions.

Tight security

Another coalition will lead a major rally on Sunday, when the two-day summit gets under way, and scores of smaller events are planned.

But they are unlikely to get within shouting distance as a tight security cordon will be drawn around the lakefront McCormick Place Convention Centre where the Nato event will be held.

Fences and barricades will be in place and the two freeways leading up to the convention centre will close, beginning on Saturday.

A no-fly zone has been imposed and the Coast Guard will keep boats at a distance, while commuter trains which pass under the convention centre will also be disrupted.

But dignitaries and an estimated 2 000 journalists will avoid traffic snarls by travelling on an underground corridor typically used by taxis, shuttles and delivery trucks.

George Ogilvie, a spokesperson for the Secret Service, said a balance had to be struck between security and minimising disruption for local citizens.

Doors closed

"It is a complex event, but it's nothing we're not familiar with handling. Every year in New York city we provide protection for the UN general assembly," he said.

The saving grace for Chicago commuters is that the summit will end - and the roads will re-open - before rush hour on Monday.

But a number of businesses - including some of the city's most treasured cultural institutions - have opted to close their doors, with the dozens of motorcades, road closures and parking restrictions being blamed.

"We thought it might be difficult to staff the museum and complex for visitors to get here," said Erin Hogan, a spokesperson for the Art Institute of Chicago, but concerns about protesters were "not part of the discussion".