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Still seeking new secretary-general

Latest update : 2009-04-04

NATO leaders crossed over a bridge from Germany to Strasbourg, France, on Saturday morning, kicking off the second day of the NATO summit. Friday's discussion over appointing a new secretary-general ended in a stalemate.

AFP - NATO leaders began talks Saturday to plan a new Afghan strategy at the alliance's 60th anniversary summit on the Rhine, amid disagreement over its future secretary general.

The leaders were to discuss a new strategy for Afghanistan focused first on providing security for key elections in August, after failing Friday to agree on a successor to take over the leadership of the organisation in July.

President Nicolas Sarkozy met his 27 NATO counterparts at the centre of a monumental footbridge connecting France and Germany, and they were ushered under tight security to talks in Strasbourg, which is besieged by protesters.

But, while the demonstrators managed to create disturbances and block some routes to the summit venue, the most obvious delay to proceedings was caused by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's latest diplomatic gaffe.

Arriving on the German side of the river to be greeted on a red carpet by summit co-host Chancellor Angela Merkel before the walk to the French side, the Italian leader left his car still talking on his mobile telephone.

He turned his back on his host and walked to the river bank still talking. Merkel appeared at first amused and then exasperated, and the other leaders left Berlusconi behind when they left for the bridge crossing ceremony.

Following two days of attempts to breach the security cordon around the summit, anti-war protesters split into smaller groups and attempted to block several road junctions throughout the French city.

Riot police fired teargas to repulse a group of 1,000 protesters who tried to cross a bridge into the city centre, but another group managed to breach the outer security perimeter and block a tramline serving the venue.

There were 25 arrests in the early clashes, which followed two days of violence on both sides of the Rhine.

US President Barack Obama was the star of Friday's opening festivities, and banged the drum for his new Afghan war strategy, but not even his presence could persuade members to agree on a new leader for the organisation.

Most of the allies are thought to back Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to take on the post in July, and Germany's Merkel had pushed publicly for his appointment to be agreed Friday.

But Turkey was angered by Rasmussen's failure to sanction Danish cartoonists who mocked the Prophet Mohammed and to close down a Denmark-based television channel which Ankara says is a mouthpiece of Kurdish separatist rebels.

Aside from finding a successor to current secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the 60th anniversary summit will be dominated by Afghanistan, where Obama is pushing for a renewed push to defeat an Al-Qaeda-backed insurgency.

There are 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, mostly under NATO command, battling the Taliban rebels, whose tenacious rebellion is spreading from the rugged and lawless tribal regions around the border with Pakistan.

Obama has decided to send 21,000 extra US troops and is considering deploying 10,000 more, while asking Europe to contribute by providing more soldiers as well as civilian support staff to train the police.

Some nations, notably Britain, have offered to send temporary reinforcements to secure the presidential elections in August.

But Obama urged Europe to follow him in committing to a longer-term surge in troop numbers as the continent was more at risk from Al-Qaeda militants who have taken refuge in Afghanistan.

"It is probably more likely that Al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States," Obama warned, addressing an invited audience in Strasbourg.

"We would like to see Europe have much more robust defence capabilities, he said, adding that Europe "should not simply expect the United States to shoulder that burden alone."

Date created : 2009-04-04