Lisbon beefs up security ahead of Lisbon meet

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Portuguese authorities have launched an unprecedented security operation ahead of this week's NATO summit to avoid a repeat of the violence that marred the alliance's last top gathering in France.

Since Tuesday, Portugal's borders have been patrolled by police and helicopters to thwart extremist groups from launching protests.

Dozens of foreigners have been turned away from border crossings in recent days, most for immigration irregularities not connected to the November 19-20 summit.

In Lisbon, heavy security has been in place since Monday at the Nations' Park venue outside the capital where leaders of 60 countries and organisations will meet over two days. Around 5,000 delegates and journalists are expected to attend.

Around 7,000 security officers will be on duty between the venue and the city centre, where anti-NATO demonstrations are planned for Saturday.

The main demonstration, set for Saturday afternoon, has been organised by around 100 pacifist associations, unions and the Portuguese Communist Party.

"We are aware of the risk of infiltration by extremist elements, but we have taken our precautions," said Filipe Ferreira, spokesman for the "Paz Sim Nato, Nao" campaign.

Meanwhile, an affiliate of the international "No to NATO" network was organising a parallel counter-summit at a Lisbon high school starting on Friday that is expected to draw up to 400 participants.

Also in the planning, anti-summit organisers say, are impromptu, "flashmob"-style gatherings with creative and humorous twists.

Portuguese authorities, however, said they were confident they could control the situation.

"Based on our information, there is no real risk of major, violent protests," said Lisbon police chief Luis Elias.

"We will probably have a few incidents, but no big clashes like in Strasbourg."

During the last 2009 summit marking NATO's 60th anniversary in the eastern French city, protesters clashed with riot police and attacked a hotel.

And despite a 10,000-strong deployment of security forces, militants also managed to set fire to another hotel near where French and US leaders had assembled for a photocall.

"We're expecting less mobilisation by radical movements," said Reiner Braun, spokesman for the international coordination committee of the counter-NATO event.

Portuguese authorities are also taking no chances, increasing the number of training and simulation exercises against possible unrest in recent weeks and also stepping up vigilance of foreign businesses, banks and embassies.

© 2010 AFP

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