Annapolis braces for a range of protests

"It's going to be tighter than a drum over there," said Craig Harrison, president of the Annapolis Striders running club. "I think the whole town is going to be very difficult to get in and out of."

annapolis 88 (photo credit: )
annapolis 88
(photo credit: )
People planning a brisk autumn run or walk at the US Naval Academy face a possible detour past shouting anti-Palestinian protesters next week amid heightened security for the Middle East peace conference. "It's going to be tighter than a drum over there," said Craig Harrison, president of the Annapolis Striders running club. "I think the whole town is going to be very difficult to get in and out of." Harrison said a government-issued photo ID normally guarantees joggers daytime access to the Naval Academy's scenic perimeter roads, where one might discuss US foreign policy with a retired admiral while enjoying the fresh air where the Severn River meets the Chesapeake Bay. With high-ranking Arab, Israeli and US officials expected on campus on Tuesday, the Yard - the nickname of the academy campus - likely will be closed to casual visitors, said Harrison, a business development specialist with federal information technology contractor Computer Sciences Corp. President George W. Bush will deliver a speech to open the meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in attendance, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice serving as the official host, said David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Forty-nine countries, groups of nations, financial institutions and individuals have been invited. The session is expected to cover three days, from Monday to Wednesday, with meetings in Washington and at the naval academy. State Department spokes-man Rob McInturff declined to discuss security for the meeting, but he said the agency's Bureau of Diplomatic Security typically takes the lead for such events, with Secret Service agents providing personal protection for the president and heads of state. The Maryland State Police, the Anne Arundel County Police Department and the Annapolis Police Department confirmed their participation in security plans. Annapolis city officials are preparing for dozens, if not hundreds, of demonstrators. Two groups opposed to the Annapolis conference - the New York-based Americans for a Safe Israel and Miami-based Shalom International - have obtained city permits for rallies Monday and Tuesday in the colonial historic district, an eight-by-eight-block section of shops, restaurants and narrow, one-way streets bordered on one side by the Naval Academy. Americans for a Safe Israel opposes creation of a Palestinian state in territories which Israel seized in wars. Shalom International is a Christian group that objects to any change in Israeli control of Jerusalem. Americans for Peace Now, a Washington-based group that favors a negotiated settlement reconciling Israeli security with Palestinian statehood, also plans to be in Annapolis, spokesman Ori Nir said. Ameinu, a New York-based Zionist organization that supports a negotiated peace in the Middle East, said it will send at least one busload of demonstrators to Annapolis. Shalom International's rally permit states that protesters will line two streets leading to the Naval Academy's Gate 1, the main visitor gate and one of three active access points controlled by armed guards along the high brick wall separating the academy from the historic district. The rest of the school's 7.2-kilometer perimeter faces the water. Officer Hal Dalton, an Annapolis Police Department spokesman, said officers on the 105-person police force who would have been off early next week have been told they may be needed. As the state capital, Annapolis is accustomed to protests, demonstrations and traffic backups. Dalton said the city of 36,000 also has had its share of presidential visits - Washington is just 50 kilometers away - and it plays host to an annual weekend boat show that draws 80,000 people to "America's Sailing Capital." "This isn't new to us, and we've worked out procedures to minimize disruptions," Dalton said. "Any emergencies, I think we're pretty much equipped to handle it - anything we can reasonably expect." Mayor Ellen Moyer said that despite its small size, Annapolis is in the big league of event management. "We have a lot of people here internationally all the time, and we have a lot of people that come into this town," she said. "We're capable of handling this kind of a conference. I think this is a positive thing for us."