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Missiles to protect summit leaders

by Guardian Unlimited Thursday, Jul. 12, 2001 at 11:00 AM

A land-based battery of rockets with a range of nine miles and an altitude of 5,000 feet has been positioned in the latest security measure against perceived threats from terrorists and protesters.

Missiles to protect summit leaders

Special report: globalisation

Rory Carroll in Rome

Wednesday July 11, 2001

The Guardian

Italy has installed a missile defence system at Genoa's airport to deter airborne attacks during next week's G8 summit, fuelling hysteria about looming violence.

A land-based battery of rockets with a range of nine miles and an altitude of 5,000 feet has been positioned in the latest security measure against perceived threats from terrorists and protesters.

Unidentified planes, helicopters and balloons risk being shot down should they drift too close to the heads of state from the group of seven leading industrialised nations and Russia.

Colonel Alberto Battaglini, of the ministry of defence, said the precaution was not exces sive. "The measure, which was planned by the previous government, may seem open to criticism, but in reality it is merely to act as a deterrent against any aerial incursion during the summit.

"They are little missiles ... which only have a deterrent function to discourage any aerial-led attack and they do not present any danger to the residents of the city," he said.

The missile system, dubbed Spada, was erected along Italy's Adriatic coast during Nato's 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia.

More than 100,000 anti-globalisation demonstrators are expected to converge on the northern port city during the July 20-22 summit.

Keen to avoid the chaos of Gothenburg, Prague and Seattle, the Italians will strive for maximum control by deploying thousands of riot police, snipers and bomb disposal teams.

Yesterday Otto Schilly, Germany's interior minister, said Italy would resurrect internal European Union border controls to block protesters from entering the country. "I presume Italy will abandon the Schengen accord during the G8 summit to prevent the arrival of troublemakers."

Authorities have reportedly ordered 200 body bags, established a temporary morgue at a hospital and arranged counselling for potentially traumatised police officers.

The airport, port and access roads will be sealed off and some leaders will be hosted on ships in case street battles threaten their safety.

Most of the groups of activists - whose causes include environment and debt forgiveness for poor countries - have pledged peaceful tactics but the authorities are nervous. Fringe groups have pledged violence and street clashes appear inevitable.

Unsourced stories of terrorist weapon hoards and sachets of HIV-infected blood have appeared in the Italian media, stoking an atmosphere of doom.

The millionaire terrorist, Osama bin Laden, has been linked to an alleged plot to assassinate the US president, George Bush.

Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has inspected Genoa twice and declared himself satisfied with the security.

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