STRASBOURG, France, April 6 (UPI) -- Anti-NATO protesters clashed with police several times this weekend in Strasbourg, where world leaders are celebrating NATO's 60th anniversary with a summit.
Early Saturday morning, when the 28 NATO leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, were still having breakfast, police stopped hundreds of protesters marching into Strasbourg, often using tear gas and roadblocks.
The activists want NATO disbanded, arguing it is a war organization that has no right to exist after the end of the Cold War.
From all over the city, protesters tried to converge on the city center, where NATO leaders met Saturday for a working meeting that included the nitty-gritty diplomacy of this otherwise festive summit.
They were due to hold a large anti-NATO demonstration in Strasbourg, with officials expecting roughly 30,000 participants.
As NATO leaders broke the deadlock over the alliance's new secretary-general, with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen getting the green light Saturday after initial resistance from Turkey, police and rioters clashed at the French-German border a few miles away.
The black-clad rioters torched a customs facility and demolished a gas station, hurling bottles and stones at police, who had amassed on a car bridge linking France and Germany to block the violence from spilling into neighboring Kehl, the German summit venue. Thick black smoke was streaming to the sky most of the afternoon, and German TV station n-tv reported that a Strasbourg hotel near the border was also burning.
Friday already saw violent clashes between police and protesters, with some 200 arrested by French police.
Also on Saturday, police detained 13 people who tried to swim to a pedestrian bridge linking Strasbourg with Kehl, where NATO leaders met a few hours later for a historic photo op.
Starting on the German side, NATO leaders marched across the bridge to be greeted in the middle by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had walked over from the French side.
The moment was intended to symbolize NATO's unity and applaud France's return into the alliance's military command; it was only disturbed by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who, in an embarrassing breach of the protocol, was talking on his cell phone and missed the historic photo op.
Stefan Nicola, UPI Europe Correspondent