Bucharest Cleans Up For NATO

ReutersA worker carrying a stray dog away from Bucharest's Parliament Palace.
BUCHAREST, Romania -- From sealing off streets and lining up snipers to catching stray dogs, Romania has beefed up security in the capital, Bucharest, for this week's NATO summit of world leaders.

The gathering, which opens Wednesday, is Romania's highest profile event ever. Hotels have been booked for the 3,000 delegates, including U.S. President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin, as well as some 3,500 journalists.

Squads of workers gave the usually grimy city a frantic facelift -- planting flower beds, hanging new street signs and painting some downtown facades. But the real focus of the organizers has been ensuring the security of Romania's important guests.

Fighter jets and warships are on standby in Romania and Bulgaria, both NATO's newest members. Authorities have brought in chemical and biological warfare experts, divers and thousands of additional personnel.

More controversially, workers have picked up scores of stray dogs, a legacy of communist-era housing policies when thousands of people were evicted from villas in the 1980s and housed in apartment blocs. Many pets were left on the streets in the process.

The gathering will be held in Bucharest's Parliament Palace, the gargantuan product of megalomaniac dreams of communist-era dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, which now serves as the city's main tourist attraction.

Officials hope the summit will catch the eyes of foreign tourists and boost the city's popularity. "If we were able to organize the world's youth festival in 1950s, I don't see any reason why we could not organize a NATO summit these days," President Traian Basescu said last week.