Sarkozy wants 'hooligans' punished over NATO protests

5th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Sunday for protesters who set fire to a hotel, smashed windows and clashed with police during the NATO summit to face severe punishment.

PARIS - At least 300 people were arrested and 49 suffered minor injuries when violence broke out Saturday during a march in the eastern city of Strasbourg where US President Barack Obama and 27 other leaders were holding their summit.

"It's incredible to think that people choose to take part in a peace protest armed with axes and metal bars and take out their anger on civil servants who are merely doing their job," Sarkozy told a French television interview.

"I really do want the hooligans to be punished with the greatest severity," he added.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets -- police said they numbered 10,000 but organisers put turnout at 30,000 -- with radicals setting fire to a hotel, a pharmacy and a disused customs office.

Masked demonstrators belonging to a hardcore anarchist group called Black Blocks hurled rocks and other objects at police, smashed windows with metal bars and damaged offices.

Of the 49 injured, 15 were police officers, according to local authorities.

The protests in Strasbourg came a few days after a man died during a demonstration in London during a Group of 20 summit.

Sarkozy stressed there were no fatalities during the Strasbourg summit.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said police had been tracking hardcore protesters for days and "prevented them from committing a certain number of acts of violence" during the summit that ended Saturday.

"We carried out 300 arrests," she told RTL radio. "We weren't able to catch all of them because this is a type of urban guerrilla where they commit offenses and then disappear."

A rights group said anti-riot police had surrounded a "peace camp" set up by protesters outside Strasbourg on Sunday and were carrying out arrests. An AFP photographer at the scene said access to the site was blocked.

France and Germany had mobilised 25,000 police for the summit, one of the biggest security operations in years.

Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation agreed during their summit to provide some 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to boost security during elections in August and train Afghan security forces.


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