Fighter jets and Chinooks to protect Greek EU summit

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The second city of Greece, Thessaloniki, is braced for a repeat of the violence at the anti-globalisation riots in Genoa two years ago, as it awaits the arrival of European leaders for the two-day EU summit on Thursday. More than 100,000 protesters are expected to converge on the city, says the Greek Social Forum, an umbrella for anti-capitalist groups, which is planning mass marches at the summit.

EU leaders will be under tight guard at the luxury tourism complex of Porto Carras, 93 miles south-east of the city. The nearby village of Neos Marmaras has been inundated by an army of 12,000 police drafted in to block public access to the remote peninsula. The summit will bring to an end Greece's six months in the EU's rotating presidency and allow the bloc's leaders to have their first discussion on a draft constitution drawn up last week by the former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing.

They will also debate controversial plans to process asylum applications in camps outside the EU's borders, and a proposed new security strategy. On Saturday, the member states will agree on a policy to offer countries in the Balkans a new path to EU membership.

The government will take no chances with the security of fellow heads of state, who will be whisked to Porto Carras in military Chinook helicopters with fighter escort. They will be backed up by almost the entire personnel of Greece's coastguard to create a security force of 20,000.

Greek authorities have been alarmed by reports from foreign intelligence services that extremist groups are planning riots and a violent confrontation with police in the Chalkidiki peninsula.

"It is not the number [of protesters] that worries us but rather our information on what some of them intend to do," a senior Greek security source told the Greek daily Kathimerini. "We will let no one through to the summit venue, no matter what sacrifice that requires." Homegrown and foreign anarchist groups have issued repeated statements that they will use violence to disrupt the summit. The anarchist group Back to the Streets said in an online statement: "Their [the Greek government's] goal is to avoid living their worst nightmare: the full expression of social rage against the state. And that rage has been clearly declared in Amsterdam, Prague, Quebec, Naples, Gothenburg and Genoa."

The tone from the more moderate Greek Social Forum has been equally bullish. "We will not put up with red zones, harassment by armed police officers and use of tear gas," a spokesperson said.

Organisers have announced a mass march on the summit venue to coincide with the first day of meetings on Friday. The forum called on demonstrators to engage in "social disobedience" but denied they would seek "outright confrontation" with police.

With the bulk of the country's law enforcement personnel guarding EU leaders inside Porto Carras, some of the one million residents of the ancient city say there are serious question over the capacity of the authorities to maintain public order in the city itself.

"With 12,000 police guarding them [the EU leaders] in Chalkidiki who is going to protect us?" Yiannis Papadoyiannis, a local jeweller with two city-centre premises, asked. Most local businesses have invested in heavy steel shutters, installed over the past week, and appeals from the local chamber of commerce for shops to stay open during the summit are expected to be ignored.

The Greek Public Order Ministry has attempted to defuse the tension by avoiding the creation of so-called red zones, or no-go areas, and providing organised camp sites at locations around the city. Police would maintain only a "light presence" in the city, ministry officials said, and none of the main roads would be blocked.

Tent cities of more than 30,000 are being set up at three sites and organisers are expecting a large foreign contingent of anti-globalisation groups to arrive within days.

An EU mini-summit in Athens in April was marred by violent clashes between demonstrators and police. Protesters smashed shop windows and hurled petrol bombs at police who replied with volleys of tear gas.