By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada, already deeply concerned about security at the G8 summit it will host next year, plans to beef up air defenses above the remote mountain site to protect against any terrorist threat, the event's top organizer said on Wednesday. Last summer, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien picked the isolated Rocky Mountain resort of Kananaskis Village, Alberta, to host the June summit of the world's eight wealthiest countries, partly to keep major demonstrations at bay in the wake of violent protests at similar events.
However, security concerns have grown exponentially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, forcing increased military involvement, said Robert Fowler, Chretien's personal representative for the top-level meeting.
"We are now having to envisage the reality of a whole bunch of threats that were not evident before Sept. 11. Those threats obviously include threats from the air," Fowler told reporters after speaking to a Calgary business audience.
"I think it's fair to say that not many of past meetings of this kind have spent time worrying about airborne threats."
Fowler stressed, however, that the Group of Eight summit of the leaders of the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy and Russia, was going ahead as scheduled for June 25-28, 2002, despite the new concerns.
Kananaskis Village, a picturesque alpine resort with just 400 hotel rooms, is located 50 miles (80 kms) west of the oil-industry city of Calgary, Alberta.
Rich in wildlife and accessible by just one paved highway, it is surrounded by 1,545 square miles (4,000 square kms) of mountainous terrain.
Besides security concerns, Chretien chose the site to force a smaller summit with far fewer delegates than the hundreds that descended on the last meeting in Genoa, Italy, last July.
The more compact meeting should give the leaders more time to discuss the world's faltering economy, the fight against terrorism and economic development for Africa, Fowler said.
Before Sept. 11, the bulk of the security was to be handled by a joint force comprising the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Calgary Police Service. However, the increased need to "secure the air envelope" above Kananaskis means a much larger military role, Fowler said.
The city of Calgary, home to about 900,000 people, had feared it could get stuck with a huge bill for beefing up security in town, where delegates, a throng of media and possibly numerous anti-globalization activists, will descend.
But on Tuesday, solicitor general Lawrence MacAuley announced Ottawa would reimburse the city and the province of Alberta for extra security costs that could run into the tens of millions of dollars.
Fowler said he could not put a price on added security, pointing out the tab for last April's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, where protesters clashed with riot police, had yet to be finalized.
Calgary has asked for C$20 million ($13 million) in federal money by the end of this month as it plans for the summit and amid new concerns following the attacks on New York and Washington.
"When we initially started planning for G8, we were dealing with, of course, anarchists and protesters. Now as of Sept. 11, added to that mix is terrorism," Calgary police chief Jack Beaton said. "That adds a whole new dimension to public security and safety."
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