Spain's fighters and warships protect EU summit

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The Independent Online

Spain has introduced massive security measures, involving fighter planes, warships and anti-aircraft missiles, to deal with any terrorist threats or anti-globalisation protests during this weekend's EU summit in Barcelona.

In a security operation that is larger in scale than any since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the Spanish army and navy have joined thousands of riot police to protect the 28 European leaders who will meet in the city tomorrow and on Saturday.

Border controls have been reimposed on the frontier with France, and Spanish authorities will examine passports in a temporary suspension of the principle of a Europe without frontiers. Spain is also calling for an EU databank on violent troublemakers.

Two F-18 Hornet fighter jets and two C-101 Aviojet ground attack planes are reported to have been stationed at Barcelona airport to monitor air traffic and intercept any unauthorised aircraft. A warship and patrol boats bearing anti-aircraft missiles will protect the Mediterranean coast, and a Nato Awacs surveillance plane is to patrol the skies.

About 8,500 riot police will guard the streets, with barriers creating a virtual security bunker around the conference centre where the leaders will meet. A main thoroughfare is being closed to normal traffic. Traffic controls were to start last night in anticipation of possible trouble after a Champions League football match between Barcelona and Liverpool at the Nou Camp.

Spain, which holds the six-month presidency of the EU, is determined to prevent repetition of the anti-globalisation riots that flared up in Seattle in 1999 and in Nice in December 2000. At the EU summit in Gothenburg in Sweden last June, protests led to huge damage to the city centre and two demonstrators were shot and injured by police.

Violence was even greater last July when sections of the Italian city of Genoa were devastated during the G8 meeting. Tough tactics by the Italian security forces provoked international condemnation when a young Italian protester was shot dead by armed police.

Spain is also worried that the summit might offer a target for a terrorist attack by Eta Basque separatists, or Islamic extremists critical of Spain's wholehearted support of the American campaign against terror in response to 11 September. The measures are intended to create a zone of security that would prevent an attack by air, sea or land.

Yesterday there was an early scare when police closed a main tunnel after an armed man fled from a car. However, state radio reported the man was thought to be a common criminal.

Huge numbers of anti- globalisation campaigners are expected to converge upon Barcelona from today for protest action, seminars and forums. A coalition of 100 groups plans a big demonstration for Saturday evening. A spokes-woman for the coalition said violence was discouraged and that only peaceful demonstrators were welcome.

Protesters have called for a day of action tomorrow and plan 16 events across the city. Organisers say the stunts are festive and intended to demonstrate the undemocratic nature of big banks and monopolies.

After 11 September, two EU summits were held in Belgium without serious alarms. Spain hopes to repeat the "hard and soft" tactics of the Belgian authorities, who allowed protesters to air their grievances while also deploying a massive police presence.

"We have made contact with the social groups involved and the impression that we have is that it will take place in an atmosphere of calm and responsibility," said a spokesman from the office of the Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar.

"Naturally, it is impossible to rule out the possibility of acts of violence," he added.

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