Tens of thousands of demonstrators were descending Thursday on two southwest German towns and the French city of Strasbourg to protest a cross-border NATO summit marking the alliance’s 60th anniversary.
President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy were among 28 world leaders expected to be on hand for the two-day summit beginning Friday.
German authorities have estimated that some 20,000 to 25,000 protesters will take part in several planned demonstrations on the German side of the border, while France’s interior minister has suggested 30,000 to 40,000 could show up in Strasbourg, where a camp has been set up to house demonstrators during the event.
In Strasbourg, French police were selectively checking passports of passengers leaving the city’s train station and appeared to be targeting the large number of backpackers pouring in. Armed police were checking the luggage of passengers boarding TGV high-speed trains from Paris to Strasbourg.
Strasbourg’s city center was nearly empty and many shops and schools were shut down for the summit.
In a bid to prevent violence, France has temporarily reinstated border controls with its immediate neighbors for the summit.
German and French police have said that 2,000 to 3,000 members of the violence-prone “black block” - so-called for the black clothes and hoods they wear - are expected.
Some 15,000 German police - including 31 special conflict resolution teams - and 9,000 French police will be on hand to try and keep the peace.
Patrols of the summit area began four days in advance, and authorities erected long barriers designed to keep protests far away from world leaders.
Organizing groups have called for peaceful protests designed to bring world attention to their cornucopia of complaints, including anti-war, anti-globalization, anti-capitalist and disarmament platforms.
The German chapter of the left-wing Attac group, which is calling for the withdrawal of all NATO troops from Afghanistan, an end to the military alliance, climate protection and a “just world economy,” was organizing conferences, camps, demonstrations and blockades.
“Together with thousands of European citizens, the world leaders will be confronted with our protest and our call for a peaceful world,” said Attac spokeswoman Gudrun Reiss. “We’re calling for massive participation in the demonstrations and the other protest activities, and the public discussion surrounding the NATO summit.”
The Berlin Anti-fascist Left group said it was sending at least 10 busloads of demonstrators to the summit area under the motto “Make NATO History.”
“It must be made clear to people that there is no peaceful political alternative to the dissolution of NATO,” the group said in a statement.
After an evening protest Thursday in Baden-Baden - a day before the spa town hosts a dinner Germany is hosting for the other world leaders - the main demonstration begins Friday at noon in the German border town of Kehl.
The activists plan to march across the Rhine river into Strasbourg, with a follow-up protest planned for Saturday before the meeting wraps up.