- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

STRASBOURG, FRANCE (AP) - Police held back protesters with tear gas and detained two dozen people in a pre-dawn clash before a summit of leaders of 28 NATO nations Saturday on the French-German border.

Other demonstrators made their way into the center of Strasbourg in a failed attempt to disrupt NATO delegates from reaching the meeting.

Meanwhile, the French president’s office said Michelle Obama and other spouses had a visit to a cancer hospital canceled for security reasons. Some 1,000 protesters were staked out near the hospital they were to visit.

Some 1,800 protesters left their camp in the south of the French city of Strasbourg at about 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) and headed north through deserted streets to the summit site, surveyed from above by several police helicopters shining searchlights.

The site is ringed with heavy security, and riot police kept them back with tear gas and barricades. The police headquarters for the Bas-Rhin region said 25 people were detained in the incident.

Elsewhere, a separate group of 200 French and German protesters _ including dozens dressed as clowns and a team of dancing percussionists _ occupied a central intersection in downtown Strasbourg after police launched flash bombs and tear gas at them.

Christoph Kleine, an organizer and spokesman for Block NATO, the network of anti-NATO groups staging the protest, said the demonstrators had hoped to make it hard to transport NATO delegates to the site of the summit.

“It’s senseless violence,” he said, claiming the police action was unprovoked.

President Barack Obama and the 27 other leaders are meeting to discuss the war in Afghanistan and NATO’s future in a summit jointly hosted by Strasbourg and the German towns of Kehl and Baden-Baden.

In Kehl, about 1,000 protesters gathered peacefully with banners that said: “Millions for Peace Not Billions for War.”

Protesters in Strasbourg have clashed with police in confrontations in previous days.

On Friday, protesters threw firecrackers at police, causing burns to the legs of one and injuring another officer’s hearing, police said. Both were taken to a hospital for treatment. A similar protest Thursday night resulted in at least 300 arrests.

Some of the protesters said they were frustrated about the large police presence. Some 15,000 German police and 9,000 French police are on call for the summit.

“The police have massively hindered this demonstration,” said Monty Schaedel, an organizer for anti-NATO protests for the German Peace Movement, in Baden-Baden. “We have a situation here where the police used all their power to stifle democracy and the freedom of opinion.”

German authorities had estimated that up to 25,000 protesters would take part in several demonstrations in Baden-Baden and Kehl.

France’s interior minister has suggested 30,000 to 40,000 ultimately could show up in Strasbourg. The numbers have so far appeared much smaller.

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