- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

BERLIN — Hopes of opening a new chapter in trans-Atlantic relations are clashing with security needs ahead of President Bush’s visit this week to Germany, where many citizens are angry about plans to shut down highways, businesses and schools.

American security forces seem to have taken over the cities of Mainz and nearby Wiesbaden in preparation for the president’s visit on Wednesday, local press reports, with snipers on rooftops, jet fighters on high alert and Secret Service agents everywhere.

The security plans, the most intensive ever seen in Germany, call for the closure of four interstate highways and shipping channels in the Rhine River, which runs through Mainz, as well as delays in train schedules.

All schools in the area will be closed, but students will have no chance to watch the arrival of Mr. Bush because all balconies along his way through the city are ordered to be empty and all windows must be closed and darkened.

About 1,200 residents who live near a conference center where Mr. Bush will visit with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will have to pass through tight security checks to get to their homes.

Businesses are expected to operate with skeleton staffs or, like the State Bank of Rhineland-Palatinate, close completely. The central hospital will be closed for patients, and its emergency room reserved in case it is needed for Mr. Bush.

“Shall I be sitting all day long in the dark, only because Mr. Bush is driving by?” complained resident Maria-Luise Fuchs in the local newspaper Wiesbadener Kurier.

The extreme measures have prompted a sort of triumphal boasting by anti-American protesters who turned out in force when Mr. Bush visited the German capital of Berlin in May 2002.

“He doesn’t dare to visit Berlin again,” says a posting on the Web site Bushinmainz.de, which is being used to organize protests during this week’s visit.

“Mainz was chosen because of its cozy atmosphere. This shows that our protest in Berlin in 2002 was not in vain,” the protesters brag on another Web site, notwelcomebush.de.

Authorities expect the visit to attract about 6,000 protesters, most of them college students who consider themselves close to the left-leaning German government. But they also expect significant representation from a neo-Nazi movement that is gaining strength, especially in the former East Germany.

Open policy differences between Mr. Schroeder and Mr. Bush have done nothing to dampen the protests. The chancellor has shown his distaste for the tough talk from Washington on Iran, preferring to use diplomacy only to settle a dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

And at a major security conference in Germany this month, Mr. Schroeder said NATO was no longer “the primary venue” for trans-Atlantic dialogue. The call drew a frosty reception from the United States.

The German public so far is siding with Mr. Schroeder. Repeated opinion polls show that between 74 percent and 80 percent of the 80 million Germans dislike the American president.

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