By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
STRASBOURG, FRANCE (BosNewsLife) — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization named Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as its new secretary general Saturday, April 4, after Turkey lifted its objections to the choice.
Rasmussen’s appointment came at NATO’s birthday gathering to commemorate the alliance’s 60th anniversary, as violent anti-war demonstrations raged outside the summit, where delegates also agreed on a common strategy for Afghanistan.
Turkey initially objected to Prime Minister Rasmussen’s appointment because he refused to apologize for Danish newspaper cartoons depicting Muslim Prophet Muhammed as a terrorist. But after tough negotiations, Rasmussen confirmed that he has been named as the next NATO leader, describing the move as a “historic” moment.
“I am deeply honoured to be the first Dane to lead the transatlantic
alliance and to have been named at the 60th anniversary summit,” he said.
Outgoing NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who will leave August 1, said “this summit has delivered” as allies had also agreed to increase their efforts to fight militants and bring back security to the troubled nation.
Britain, Spain and Italy said they would send hundreds of extra troops each to secure Afghanistan’s key August presidential election, adding up to what the White House said was a total of “up to 5,000” personnel.
The deal was seen as a victory for new U.S. President Barack Obama, who came to his first NATO summit to promote his new Afghan strategy.
He warned his allies that Europe would have to shoulder more of the war-fighting burden as, in his assessment, it would face a greater terrorist attack from groups such as al-Qaida “because of its proximity.” “I am pleased that our NATO allies pledged their strong and unanimous support for
our new strategy,” Obama told reporters.
France and Germany were not among the countries who made major new troop commitments, but Obama praised President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel as the joint hosts of the 60th anniversary summit.
De Hoop Scheffer also said NATO wanted to strengthen relations with Russia, despite disagreements with Russia over its war with Georgia last year. NATO also made clear it would continue to expand, possible to Georgia and Ukraine, over Moscow’s objections.
There were also some sad moments. Heads of states participated in a ceremony on the Rhine river separating France and Germany- in honour of the many men and women who were killed or injured in NATO operations in recent years.
During the ceremony, coming from the French side, French President Sarkozy met halfway on a bridge with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US President Barack Obama and other leaders.
Soon after, the area was the scene of fighting between riot police and anti-NATO protesters. The French government said police detained over 300 people during violent protests at the NATO summit in the eastern city of Strasbourg. President Nicolas Sarkozy told media he wants those convicted of crimes to be punished “with extreme severity.”
Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters that some 2,000 people “known in their countries for their extremism and their violence” were among legitimate protesters at Saturday’s demonstration.
A hotel and a customs station were burned in the historic eastern city of Alsace near the German border, news reports said. Sarkozy said on French TV it was “incredible” that people had used iron bars at a protest for peace. (With reporting from France and Germany. BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments in the world impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).