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Europe

Germany Tightens Security After First Missiles Hit Iraq

Police officers, politicians and protesters are bracing for first day of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Leaders urge world to prevent a 'humanitarian catastrophe."

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On guard: A German soldier guards the Rhein-Main Air Base outside Frankfurt.

Hours after the United States unleashed its first salvo of cruise missiles against Saddam Hussein, Germany nervously began on Thursday to await the outcome of the war.

In Berlin, police worried about the security of U.S. facilities in the German capital quickly moved to eliminate the first problem that emerged from the conflict. Officers discovered a handbag lying inside the security ring set up around the U.S. Embassy. They immediately brought in a remotely controlled robot, which was used to blow up the bag about 7:15 a.m. Afterward, police determined that the bag contained only cement.

Berlin police also increased security around the embassies of Britain and Spain, two leading U.S. allies in the war against Iraq.

Guards added to bases

The war began after the government of Gerhard Schröder stepped up its security force guarding U.S. facilities in the country from 2,500 soldiers to 3,700. Authorities also increased their security around Jewish facilities in the country. And federal border guards stepped their patrols at the Frankfurt International Airport, Europe's second largest airport.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Otto Schily suggested that the war would increase the threat of terrorism in Germany. "The terror network al Qaida will mostly react to the war by increasing its terror activities and use it for propaganda purposes," Schily said in a television interview. "We also have to expect that there will be so-called spontaneous terrorists from the extremist, fundamentalist Islamic scene."

Elsewhere around the country, politicians, airline executives and anti-war protesters prepared to face the coming conflict.

Political leaders stressed two points in their initial reactions to the start of the war -- the world community must support the civilian population of Iraq and the United Nations remains a major player in world events.

Warning on 'humanitarian catastrophe'

Schröder's spokesman, Bela Anda, said that everything must be done to avoid a "humanitarian catastrophe" in Iraq. He said the German government was ready to support the United Nations and its organizations to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people.

The secretary general of Schröder's Social Democratic Party, Olaf Scholz, said in a television interview on Thursday morning that the start of war was dismaying.

Olaf Scholz

Olaf Scholz

But Scholz, like other German politicians, said the United Nations would remain the central authority in controlling international conflicts despite the United States' decision to launch the war without a U.N. mandate. "The United Nations will emerge from the conflict in a rather stronger position because everyone knows that without the United Nations nothing happens," Scholz said.

At the Frankfurt International Airport, a crisis management team of the German carrier Lufthansa considered how it would reshape the airline's schedule. On Wednesday, flights to Tel Aviv, Israel, and Damascus, Syria, were canceled in anticipation of the start of the war. On Thursday, the airline went a step further, canceling all flights to the Middle East through Friday.

Protests planned around Germany

With the conflict now under way, the German peace movement planned to implement its Day X, the second stage of protests against the conflict. The group Netzwerk Friedenskooperative said an estimated 100 demonstrations would be held across the country starting at 5 p.m. The protesters are being organized by a variety of groups, including the anti-globalization movement Attac, the Social Democratic Party and German unions.

Last month, hundreds of thousands of Germans took to the streets in an effort to stop the war.

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