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NATO members discuss missile defense amid protests

May 21, 2012 - Chicago

Leaders of NATO allies on Sunday agreed on over 20 multinational defense programs to enhance the missile shield capability, while an anti-NATO protest outside the summit venue escalated into a clash.

The alliance now has an interim ballistic missile defense capability, the first step toward the long-term goal of providing "full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territories and forces," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after heads of state and government met for the first day of the summit.

"Our system will link together missile defense assets from different allies' satellites, ships, radars and interceptors under NATO command and control. It will allow us to defend against threats from outside the Euroatlantic area," said Rasmussen.

He also said NATO has made progress on "smart defense," which means pooling resources together to acquire costly capabilities in the age of austerity.

Leaders approved "a robust package of more than 20 multinational projects to provide the capabilities we need, at a price we can afford," the NATO chief said.

The package includes the establishment of a 17-billion-dollar Alliance Ground Surveillance system, in which NATO countries will purchase five Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft equipped with an advanced ground surveillance radar sensor as well as the associated command and control base stations.

The programs also include the extension of Baltic Air Policing, in which NATo allies' fighter jets patrol the skies of the three Baltic nations, allowing them to forego the acquisition of expensive planes, and focus their security resources on other high-priority NATO capabilities and operations.

"In these difficult economic times, we can work together and pool our resources," said U.S. President Obama at the summit opening.

Hours ahead of the summit, Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss NATO's future commitment to Afghanistan. Karzai said Afghans are "looking forward to an end to this war," and are "fully aware of the task ahead and what Afghanistan needs to do."

Leaders will focus their discussion on the future of Afghanistan on Monday, which "will send a strong signal of commitment to the Afghan people," said Rasmussen. But he also acknowledged the meeting would not be a "pledging session," as few countries are expected to attach a dollar figure to the support.

As Obama and Karzai met in the morning, thousands of protestors rallied nearby to denounce the war in Afghanistan, hoping their anti-war message would penetrate the walls of the convention center.

The demonstration, led by dozens of U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars wearing uniforms or anti-war T-shirts, were surrounded by police. Several veterans threw their service medals from the stage. Protests folded an American flag and later carried an Afghan flag to symbolize the withdrawal of the U.S. troops.

Although the rally began with orderly organization, a pitched battle broke out in the evening as protesters were dispersed and some rushed through the barricade set by the police.

Chicago police said at least 18 people had been arrested. Local television reported that one police officer was slightly injured. (Xinhua-ANI)


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