Locals on guard as G-8 Summit begins

By Ed Brock

With President George Bush safely ensconced on Sea Island, it seemed like every law enforcement officer in Georgia was waiting Monday for the arrival of the seven other world leaders at the G-8 Summit.

Just about a mile from where the leaders of France, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and Japan would join Bush to lay out the world's economic and political policies, Clayton County Police officers have been working long shifts at McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport.

"We actually are the police reaction team for the airport," Clayton County police Capt. Tim Robinson said. "If there's a problem, we contain it."

Officers from the Atlanta Police Department and other agencies joined them in guarding the airport, and all over St. Simons police officers and military personnel in Humvees were parked at almost every intersection. All vehicles were stopped and briefly searched at a checkpoint at the mainland end of the causeway leading to the island.

Robinson and the more than 20 officers from the Clayton County Police Department were standing at the ready at the airport where large military helicopters landed Sunday night, drawing some camera-toting spectators.

"We make routine patrols to make sure nothing has changed," Robinson said, adding that he felt no tension on the eve of the summit's beginning. "The (U.S.) Secret Service has planned and prepared for this. I don't foresee any problems."

Morrow Fire Chief David Wall, in Brunswick with some of his firefighters as part of the Georgia Mutual Aid Group support for the Glynn County Fire Department, was similarly optimistic.

"Hopefully we won't have to run too many serious calls," Wall said. "We're ready for whatever comes."

Back in Brunswick, Clayton County-born activist Carol Bass said the heavy security presence was reminiscent of what was seen under Communist rule in Russia.

"They're not just guarding something, they're patrolling a residential neighborhood," Bass said. "They were harassing us all day yesterday."

As the Globalization Education Coordinator for the Georgia Peace and Justice Coordinator, Bass was manning the Independent Media Center in Brunswick on Monday, just a few miles from Coastal Georgia Community College where protesters with issues ranging from the war in Iraq to exploitation of workers in Third World nations had been given a forum.

She said soldiers were going door to door in the neighborhood around St. John's Missionary Baptist Church asking the people if they were having any trouble with the protesters in the church.

"This is a military occupation," Bass said.

Air Force One was the only plane in the sky as Bush landed at Hunter Army Airfield outside Savannah. He waved to reporters as he stepped of the plane hand in hand with First Lady Laura Bush and the first couple shook hands with Gov. Sonny Perdue, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and local political leaders. He then boarded Marine One, the presidential helicopter, and took off for Sea Island where the actual conference will take place starting today.

At the International Media Center in Savannah, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice gave a briefing outlining the agenda for this annual meeting of the G-8. She began her comments with a tribute to former President Ronald Reagan who died Saturday at 93. Reagan hosted the summit, then called the G-7 since Russia was not yet a member, in 1983.

"I can't see how you can help but be inspired by what Ronald Reagan did," Rice said.

"He was absolutely clear that when liberty and freedom are on the march, America is safer, and when liberty and freedom are in retreat America is weaker."

The war in Iraq and peace in the Middle East were on top of the list of issues the G-8 leaders would discuss, and at Bush's invitation the leaders of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen were scheduled to attend the summit. Also, the newly elected Iraqi interim government President Ghazi al-Yawar has been invited to attend.

Also on the agenda was the rising price of gasoline and aid for developing nations in Africa.

On the beaches of St. Simons Island, a scattering of tourists, mostly locals, enjoyed the relative peace that seemed to come from a fear that the summit would bring trouble.

"A lot of locals left thinking it would be really bad, but it hasn't been, yet," said St. Simons resident Beverly Perry.

The family that was supposed to have Alpharetta resident Margaret Player's time-share condominium this week decided not to come because of the summit, she said, and her family and she have reaped the benefits.

"It's been great. No one's on the beach. No one's at the store," Player said.

Behind her, the walls of the exclusive Cloister resort where the summit is to be held were clearly visible, and in the waters between the two islands a bright orange Coast Guard patrol boat stood solitary guard.

"We feel awfully safe," Player said.