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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prague Residents Brace for Summit

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Almost 12 years after the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, NATO is coming to Prague for a gala summit meeting this week that will welcome into the alliance up to seven new members from what was the Soviet bloc.

It has fallen to local military and police forces -- aided by F-15 and F-16 American fighter jets patrolling the city -- to defend NATO in a vast security operation for more than 40 heads of state and their ministers during the two-day meeting.

The leading daily Mlada Fronta Dnes likened the city to a "giant fortress." Whole areas of Prague are being blocked off. Schools have been shut for the week, and parents urged to take their children to the countryside, where almost every Czech has either relatives or a small chata, a country cottage.

In addition to the American fighter jets over the capital, Czech helicopters will hover over the country's two nuclear power plants and 11,000 police officers will seal off large sections of the city against potential unrest.

Even with few signs of protest evident two days before the meeting opens, Praguers without schoolchildren simply packed up and left town for the week rather than contend with traffic tangled by the security measures.

Travel agencies offered special packages. For the key meeting days, senior Czech officials asked suburban shopping malls to hold special sales and promotional events to draw Praguers away from the center.

Shopkeepers are particularly unhappy.

"We are not afraid they will break the windows," said Jirina Michalkova, who owns Caffe Vescovi, an Italian food shop in historic Mala Strana, "but there are no customers because most of the local people have left Prague. If it's bad, we will close Thursday and Friday. There's no point ordering fresh bread when you just have to throw it out."

Two years ago, when Prague was the site of the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, what began as a peaceful protest against globalization ended in running street battles between police officers with tear gas and water cannon, and a violent core of demonstrators throwing paving stones and occasional Molotov cocktails. Almost a hundred officers were wounded, several seriously.

The police are still smarting and this time they have vowed to be more aggressive.

If the demonstrators get rowdy, warned Chief Jiri Kolar, "we won't just passively wait and hold our positions like we did two years ago."

"That time, as the police of a post-totalitarian state, we could not proceed otherwise," Kolar said. "But this year we will not let them beat us. We want to get to the standard of developed countries."

The biggest police catch so far have been five teenage "darkers," power-grid hackers who use computers and insulated metal cables to short-circuit high tension wires and power substations for the thrill of seeing sparks fly or throwing whole neighborhoods into the dark.