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Protesters Clash With German Police Outside Of G-20 Summit

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: And I'm Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson also in Hamburg. Choosing this city as the venue for the summit is a big security and political gamble for Angela Merkel. But Hamburg is the chancellor's hometown, and she is trying to show the world that protests are tolerated in a democracy.

Waves and boats ferrying passengers across the Elbe River are the sounds typically associated with this northern port city - not this week, though, as authorities try to secure Hamburg before the summit begins.


NELSON: Police helicopters hover overhead nonstop while below, 20,000 heavily armed police officers from around Germany have taken over downtown...


NELSON: ...Many of them with dogs sniffing for explosives and helping to keep order. German officials are concerned about the prospect of an Islamist terror attack given the many recent incidents across Europe. They are also determined to prevent anti-G-20 demonstrations from turning violent. And police have been quick to use force to break up gatherings at the first sign of trouble as they did tonight. Nor were area business owners taking any chances.


NELSON: Many put up plywood to protect their store fronts from the clashes between demonstrators and police. Fifteen square miles of downtown have also been declared off-limits to anyone not connected to the summit.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Public transit drivers warned of areas that were closed to passengers, but Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz denied the authorities were being heavy handed.


OLAF SCHOLZ: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He told German public broadcaster ARD the city has agreed to allow nearly 30 demonstrations to go ahead. He says holding summits in some out-of-the-way location as is usually the case isn't as democratic as holding it in a liberal city like Hamburg. He says it's important for the 20 most powerful leaders in the world to get together and to tackle pressing global issues like climate change, free trade and aid for developing countries. But his assurances weren't stopping many Hamburg residents from leaving, like this 61-year-old doctor's assistant at the Central Train Station who said she was too frightened to give her name.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking German).

NELSON: "I find the city's atmosphere threatening," the woman says, adding she worries there will be a rampage. She says she and her husband moved up their vacation to escape the G-20, but they first had to make it past hundreds of protesters who had just arrived by chartered train from Switzerland.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in foreign language).

NELSON: Scores of police in riot gear were on hand to vet the out-of-towners. Thousands more Hamburg residents are protesting against the summit, too, like this group that carry posters denouncing Donald Trump.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: My body, my choice.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: Her body, her choice.

NELSON: None of the residents I interviewed were happy Trump was here, nor did they think his talks with Merkel, let alone the G-20, would change anything. They're especially upset about the American president pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. One is retiree Klaus Wilke.

KLAUS WILKE: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says Trump is a charlatan who thinks he can get things done but doesn't understand his job. Wilke adds, tongue-in-cheek, if he doesn't come around, we'll just make him take a timeout like in kindergarten, and it'll be the G-19, not the G-20. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Hamburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

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