Security measures for NATO summit evoke mixed reactions

Photo: CTK

Preparations for the November NATO summit in Prague have accelerated and, amidst growing international concern over possible terrorist attacks and street riots, the summit's organizers are placing a huge stress on security. Debates on how many fighter jets will be protecting the skies over Prague, how many police officers will be out in the streets and how the two day summit will restrict movement around the Czech capital have become so widespread they have elicited a protest from President Havel who said he had the impression that Prague was preparing for war and not an important international gathering.

Photo: CTK
Security measures for the upcoming summit are unprecedented. Czech and US air force pilots have been conducting joint training exercises for the past ten days. Each foreign delegate has been assigned a bodyguard, the police officers deployed in the streets should easily outnumber protestors expected to converge on the Czech capital for the two day summit, and over 2,000 soldiers have been assigned patrol duty at Prague's international airport, the conference center and several Prague hotels. For the duration of the summit, key sites in Prague will be turned into small fortresses. Prague's mayor Igor Nemec explains:

"We have a map here that shows which areas are off limits. Everything beyond the red line - that's around Prague Castle and the conference centre, - is off limits to all who do not have a special pass. These passes will be issued in good time to people who live and work in the area and those who are involved in the summit. I'm afraid it will cause some inconvenience. Personally I'd advise Prague residents and tourists to leave the city for this critical period, if it is at all possible."

On Tuesday the Interior Ministry issued a list of instructions advising people how to behave during these "extraordinary" two days. Among other things, it says that everyone should carry an ID on their person, obey police instructions, try to avoid getting mixed up in street riots and, ideally, restrict their movement around the city. Not everyone likes the idea. Czech journalist and former dissident Jan Urban has this to say:

"All this loud-mouthed talking about everybody having to obey the orders of the police anywhere in Prague -that is just ridiculous. I am perfectly aware of the security risks, I am perfectly willing to help the police by not entering secured areas but the rest of the city is my city and they have no right to limit my movements or give me special orders outside of their normal performance."

Czech officials are aware of the fact that not everyone is happy with how they are doing their job but they are determined to pass this security test with flying colors - no matter the inconvenience to the public. As the first NATO summit to take place in a former communist state it is viewed as a major challenge and many heads would roll if anything went badly wrong.