French riot police fired teargas to force back hundreds of anti-NATO protesters who tried to prevent world leaders celebrating the military alliance’s 60th anniversary at a summit yesterday.
Leaders of NATO’s 28 member states including US President Barack Obama hoped to forge a new strategic vision for the alliance, which was created soon after World War II to defend Europe’s borders and has expanded despite the demise of its first foe, the Soviet Union.
But a dispute between Turkey and Europe over the appointment of a new leader threatened to shatter any semblance of unity after the leaders failed to reach a deal on Friday.
Turkey blocked Europe’s candidate, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who had emerged as front-runner to replace Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as secretary-general when he steps down at the end of July.
Turkey has criticized Rasmussen’s handling of a row in 2006 over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that offended Muslims.
NATO officials put a brave face on the deadlock and said talks would continue yesterday, the second and last day of the summit that is co-hosted by France and Germany in Strasbourg and nearby Baden-Baden.
“We don’t have consensus yet,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai told a news conference late on Friday. “We will get there. This alliance always gets there.”
Anti-summit protesters, campaigning to have NATO disbanded following the end of the Cold War, vowed to disrupt yesterday’s meeting after two days of sometimes violent clashes.
Clashes began several hundred meters from the summit early yesterday after protesters defied a security cordon around Strasbourg in eastern France and hurled smoke bombs and fireworks. There were no immediate signs that the most closely guarded security zone around the leaders had been breached.
An Iranian journalist based in Germany collapsed with breathing difficulties after being hit in with face with teargas and was taken away by ambulance, witnesses said.
Police said they had arrested 25 demonstrators during the night and estimated 1,800 had left a makeshift protest camp on Strasbourg’s outskirts in groups, watched by police helicopters.
Leaders had hoped to reach a decision on the top NATO job on Friday, clearing the way for detailed discussions yesterday over Afghanistan with Obama promoting his new Afghan strategy.
In a speech to students on Friday, Obama said Europe was more threatened by al-Qaeda than the US because it was closer to the conflict zones.
He said European nations should do more to help in the fight against Islamist militants in the Afghan war, which risks slipping from NATO’s control more than seven years after US-backed forces toppled the Taliban from power.
Obama also signaled to Europe he would support Rasmussen in his bid to become NATO secretary-general. Deadlock over the appointment could have ramifications for Turkey’s tortuous bid to join the EU.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had openly endorsed Rasmussen and sounded confident a deal would be swiftly reached, but she appeared to misjudge Turkey, which suggested the Dane would undermine NATO’s reputation in the Muslim world.
“We ask why we got stuck on a single name. Let’s look for new alternatives,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said.
Turkey’s negotiations over EU membership are blocked at a number of levels and neither Germany nor France, the traditional engines driving the union, are likely to promote the talks if Ankara persists in blocking their favored NATO candidate.