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NATO faces new protests, divided over chief

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 today.

Leaders of NATO's 28 member states including U.S. President Barack Obama hoped to forge a new strategic vision for the alliance, which was created soon after World War Two 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 over a new leader threatened to shatter any semblance of unity after the leaders failed to reach a deal yesterday.

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 on July.

Turkey has criticized Rasmussen's handling of a row in 2006 over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that offended Muslims.

NATO officials put a brave face on the deadlock and said talks would continue today, 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 yesterday. "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 today's meeting after two days of sometimes violent clashes.

Clashes began several hundred meters from the summit early today 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.

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 yesterday, clearing the way for detailed discussions today over Afghanistan with Obama promoting his new Afghan strategy.

In a speech to students yesterday, Obama said Europe was more threatened by al Qaeda than the United States 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 bid to join the European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had openly endorsed Rasmussen and sounded confident a deal would be swiftly reached, but she appeared to misjudge Turkey.

"We ask why we got stuck on a single name. Let's look for new alternatives," said Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey's negotiations over EU membership are blocked at a number of levels and neither Germany nor France, the traditional engines driving the union, is likely to promote the talks if Ankara persists in blocking their favored NATO candidate.


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