Denmark prepares for anti-EU riots

Denmark is building cells in underground car parks and drawing up contingency plans to evacuate pensioners from Copenhagen city centre in readiness for possible riots during its six-month European Union presidency.

The unprecedented security measures arise from last year's anti-globalisation protests at an EU summit in neighbouring Sweden, when many of those arrested turned out to be Danes.

The Danish government has announced that, as key meetings approach, it will suspend an EU free travel agreement and, if necessary, draft in hundreds of extra police.

Specially armoured vehicles have been brought in from the Netherlands to transport police in safety, and the police plan to use a website to present their side of the story if they are accused of violent tactics during protests.

Although the EU presidency gives Danish politicians a high profile and an influential role within the EU, its implications for the public are becoming clearer. With the prospect of large areas of Copenhagen's centre being sealed off, the city council has confirmed that there are plans for old people to be taken temporarily from their homes into residential care.

Most controversial, however, is a plan to build temporary holding centres in two underground car parks of Copenhagen police stations. Facing criticism that detainees could be held in temperatures as low as minus 15C at the December summit of EU leaders in the capital, Danish police showed the cells to the local media last week.

They say the units will allow about 300 people to be held at one time but that no one will be in a unit for more than 24 hours. Suspects will have access to food, water and toilet facilities, and the cells will be 6ft high, 6ft wide and 12ft deep. By day they will hold six people, and at night no more than four, police say.

The first potential flashpoint of the presidency will be a meeting of EU and Asian finance ministers in September. In December the heads of government will gather in the Danish capital, but police hope that cold weather will inhibit protests.

For key EU meetings, levels of policing are to be more than doubled if necessary, with hundreds drafted in from the provinces to boost the normal 1,800 officers to a maximum of 4,000. Concerned that they stand to lose a propaganda battle, the authorities have announced that two officers from the police information department will be writing news stories from the perspective of the security forces.

"When we watch the evening news on TV or read the papers, they always focus on the heavily armed police officer from the Copenhagen police holding down a fragile-looking girl – but what you never see is that the girl two seconds earlier had been standing with a piece of rock, ready to smash into the head of a policeman who is lying on the ground," Flemming Steen Munch of the Copenhagen police told Berlingske Tidene newspaper.

Jorgen Poulsen, professor of journalism at Roskilde University, told the paper: "You could imagine situations where the press don't have access and where then the police's own journalists will be the only ones reporting."

In any event, the Danish authorities seem determined not to be caught off guard as they were during protests in 1993 after the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, when police in Copenhagen panicked and shot 11 people. This time the police will be issued with tear gas, and officers are being given refresher courses on crowd control.

The authorities have also taken to heart the lessons from Gothenburg last year when ill-prepared Swedish police shot three protesters. The Swedes were not equipped with tear gas and had consigned their only water cannon to the police museum.

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