Fear and loathing in Main St, Auchterarder

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Indy Politics

On a wet afternoon in Auchterarder enthusiasm among residents for a meeting of world leaders on their doorstep resembled the weather - dark, gloomy and with little in the way of sunshine to look forward to.

On a wet afternoon in Auchterarder enthusiasm among residents for a meeting of world leaders on their doorstep resembled the weather - dark, gloomy and with little in the way of sunshine to look forward to.

Situated just a mile and a half from the opulent Gleneagles Hotel, where the political heads of the world's richest countries will gather next month for the G8 summit, the 4,000 inhabitants of the former mill town are getting worried.

Almost daily, new rumours and fears sweep along the extraordinarily long main street - which gives the place its nickname of the "lang toon" - fanned by media coverage predicting riots and devastation.

"Nobody quite knows what to expect," said Mima Scott, a pensioner who lives on the outskirts of the town and who admits to being fearful of the rumours. "We keep hearing about police practising for riots, of American Marines being flown in from an aircraft carrier and troublemakers planning to set fire to lorries on the A9 into town. A lot of people are wondering about leaving the area during the summit and going on holiday, but are worried about leaving their houses empty."

Although the largest demonstrations being organised by the Make Poverty History Campaign and other groups are being planned for Edinburgh, some 40 miles away, there are fears that trouble could spill over into the streets of Auchterarder.

A protest group, G8 Alternatives, has announced plans to hold a rally outside the hotel on the first day of the summit at which at least 30,000 people are expected to gather in Auchterarder Park.

Despite plans by police and security officials to seal off a number of A-classified roads and several rights of way to protect Tony Blair and his guests, the protesters are determined to make their voices heard inside the luxury hotel.

"How on earth anybody expects that number of people to gather in Auchterarder beats me," said John Bagot, owner of Darcy's gift shop and one of the few traders not planning to either close down for the duration or at least board up his windows. "The town's not big enough."

Many of Auchterarder's small, independent delicatessens, coffee shops and fashion boutiques cater for a growing affluent middle-class, who live in the spreading enclaves of private roads and electronic-gated executive homes around town.

"There won't be many of our regular customers willing to come into town then," said Mr Bagot. "The majority of demonstrators will probably be well- behaved but it just takes a few hotheads to put a few windows in and it can get out of control. "

Fears have been increased this week by Bob Geldof's surprise call for more than one million anti-poverty campaigners to descend on Edinburgh next month.

Following warnings from police and city officials that the capital won't be able to cope, there are concerns that many of the demonstrators will spread to other target areas and especially Gleneagles. That would put Auchterarder in the front line of any confrontation.

For weeks now security officials have been preparing an extensive defence barrier around the hotel and its exclusive grounds.

While contractors resurface the roads leading to the hotel to iron out any bumps for visiting dignitaries, paint lamp-posts and straighten kerbstones, specialist security staff have been constructing a fortress.

A physical barrier of more than 10,000 panels stretching more than five miles has been erected along the boundary of the hotel, aimed at preventing unauthorised access to the venue and its 850 acres of grounds.

Monitored by closed-circuit television cameras, the 6ft-high wire-mesh fence, which is camouflaged on the inside so delegates don't see it, is regularly patrolled by police and private security personnel 24 hours a day.

Yesterday police vehicles patrolled many of the minor roads surrounding the Gleneagles complex, which includes three golf courses, a falconry school and shooting range. They took the personal details of anybody stopped by the roadside for any length of time.

Residents closest to the £500-a-night hotel have already been issued with a special pass to enable them to move more freely inside the exclusion zone, which is expected to be guarded by thousands of police and security guards. The only people who seem completely happy with the situation are the children - the local school has been designated a police centre and will close a week early for the summer holidays.

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