Berlin (dpa) – Demonstrators gathered in Berlin Tuesday to protest US policies, including recently revealed global electronic surveillance programmes, hours before the arrival of President Barack Obama.
Members of Germany‘s Digital Society Association rallied at Checkpoint Charlie, a famous Cold War border crossing that has become a popular tourist attraction. One placard said, “Yes we scan” – an allusion to Obama‘s 2008 campaign slogan “Yes we can.”
Association spokeswoman Linnea Riensberg said she was filing a formal police complaint charging illegal surveillance of both German officials and private citizens.
Obama was set to arrive aboard Air Force One at 8:25 pm (1825 GMT) at the city‘s Tegel Airport from the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. The president was then to be whisked to the city‘s Ritz-Carlton hotel to rest, with no official engagements in the evening.
His first visit to Berlin in the four-and-a-half years since he became president was to climax Wednesday with an open-air address on Pariser Platz, a city square dominated by the Brandenburg Gate.
A dais and grandstands have been erected on the square, where the US embassy occupies one frontage. Officials have spoken of 4,000 vetted guests, but a newspaper, the Berliner Morgenpost, said the list expanded to 6,000 names after Washington gave the okay.
During his first term, Obama twice visited parts of Germany distant from Berlin. However, in the language of diplomacy, it is his official visit to the capital that counts as a sign of friendship.
Obama‘s last visit to Berlin was in 2008 as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. He gave a campaign speech to a crowd of 200,000, with the city‘s Victory Column as a backdrop.
Germany and the United States emphasized they were allies and friends before this week‘s visit. The stay of 25 hours and 5 minutes includes talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“The partnership with America is indispensable to us Germans and Europeans to preserve shared peace, security and prosperity in these times of globalization,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper.
Both sides have played down the revelation last week of the NSA‘s surveillance under the code-name PRISM.
Merkel has been urged by many politicians to demand that Obama explain the spying.
“The PRISM affair will undoubtedly overshadow Obama‘s visit,” said Heike MacKerron, director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, in a briefing note.
“The real danger, though, is that the PRISM revelation may lead to greater distrust during the negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),” she said. That deal would ease trade barriers in public procurement and norms and standards.
Merkel had a close relationship with his predecessor, George W Bush, and reportedly took time to get used to Obama. German public opinion favoured Obama over Bush, but Germans have since cooled to him.
MacKerron said Germans fault Obama for: not bringing Washington behind an international climate change agreement; keeping the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay open; increasing the number of drones used in warfare; and failing to impose stricter gun control.
She said Obama would probably be pressing Germany at talks with Merkel to assist its weaker neighbours in overcoming the euro crisis.
“The view that Germany is selfishly wielding its clout – imposing austerity policies on weaker European economies in order to protect German taxpayers – can not only be heard in southern Europe, but also in Washington,” she said.
Security was high for the visit, which ranks as an “official” one rather than a top-rated state visit.
“We are well prepared,” said a Berlin police spokesman, confirming the city would be at the highest possible grade of alert, 1+. He said 3,000 city police were on duty Tuesday, with an even bigger callout planned Wednesday.
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