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Obama: I couldn’t sleep in my own Chicago bed

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

CHICAGO — President Obama praised Chicago police Monday for their handling of several days worth of clashes with anti-government protesters during the city's NATO summit, and asked for sympathy from frustrated Chicagoans because he wasn't able to sleep in his own bed.

"Chicago police, Chicago's finest, did a great job under some difficult pressure and a lot of scrutiny," Mr. Obama said at a news conference as the summit concluded. He said the protests, traffic delays and disruptions of daily life downtown were "part of the price of being a world city."

To those city residents and workers who had to endure road closures and other inconveniences, Mr. Obama requested they put themselves in his slippers, saying he wasn't able to go back to his home in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

"If it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home," the president said. "I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight, but they said I would cause even worse traffic, so I ended up staying in a hotel — which contributes to the Chicago economy."

But the head of NATO apologized to Chicago residents Monday for the headaches caused by the two-day summit that Mr. Obama helped to bring to his hometown.

"I know that hosting a big international event like this will cause some inconvenience for the citizens of Chicago. I apologize for that," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a briefing with reporters.

Mr. Obama pushed for Chicago to host the conference, as well as a Group of Eight nations summit. Organizers eventually moved the G-8 meeting to Camp David, partly out of concern that holding both international conferences in Chicago in succession would draw too many protesters to the Windy City.

Thousands of demonstrators descended on Chicago anyway, culminating in violent clashes with police Sunday as groups of demonstrators marched toward the convention site and another location where first lady Michelle Obama held an event. There were scenes on local TV of riot police using shields to push back demonstrators, and of some protesters being bloodied.

Some demonstrators hurled bottles at police. Dozens were arrested.

Earlier in the week, police raided an apartment in Chicago and charged several men with plotting to attack Mr. Obama's campaign headquarters, as well as the home of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other sites, with Molotov cocktails.

On Monday, protesters again gathered on streets downtown, chanting slogans against the aerospace giant Boeing, banks, NATO and Mr. Emanuel, who served as Mr. Obama's White House chief of staff. They accused the mayor of being "pro-war" referred to him as a "1 percenter" — the term that Occupy protesters reserve for Wall Street titans — for spending millions to host NATO instead of on social programs.

Demonstrators also gathered outside Mr. Obama's re-election headquarters, located in a gleaming high-rise office building near the lakefront.

Mr. Rasmussen said Monday he had "reached out" to various protest groups, which included the Occupy movement and anarchists, to exchange views.

"One of my assistant secretary-generals met with representatives of the protest groups so that they could convey their views directly to NATO," Mr. Rasmussen said. "We also got an opportunity to explain where we stand, explain about the values on which our alliance is based. I think that's in the spirit of a true democracy."

The NATO chief said he doesn't believe the protests have hurt Chicago's image.

"I think we should appreciate that we live in a free democracy where it is constitutional to participate in demonstrations and express your views," he said. "I have seen posters with slogans, based on which I can tell you that I don't agree with the protesters. But that's also a constitutional right, to express views that contradict" with his own.

Some media outlets have called Chicago a "police state" since the arrival of NATO delegates late last week. Police have shut down major roads into the heart of the city to create a security perimeter around the summit site at McCormick Place, a sprawling convention center near the lakefront.

Eight-foot tall, anti-scale security fencing has been erected downtown, and police reinforcements have been sent in from as far away as Philadelphia.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on a "secret suburban Chicago" police-control center where officials from more than 40 different agencies watch a giant screen to view video feeds from security cameras around the city.

Mr. Obama downplayed the protests, in which dozens of demonstrators were arrested over several days in clashes with police that sometimes turned bloody.

"With respect to the protesters, this is part of what NATO defends, is free speech and freedom to assemble," he said. "Outside of Chicago, folks really weren't all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here, because that's part of what America is about," Mr. Obama said.

He added that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, his former White House chief of staff, "obviously was stressed, but he performed wonderfully."

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