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MAINZ, Germany — The German government is planning to close major highways, river routes and airspace within a 37-mile radius when President Bush visits Mainz on Feb. 23.

Though still in the planning stages, the security strategy is expected to upset thousands of German commuters, as well as some Americans stationed in the area.

Portions of highways 60, 67, 3 and 66 will be closed from the Frankfurt International Airport past the city of Mainz from 7 to 11 a.m. and from 5 to 10 p.m. Also, both the Rhine and the Main rivers will be closed throughout the day, and airspace above the communities will be closed and monitored.

During a news conference Monday at the Rheinland-Palatinate state chancellor’s office, German police from the states of Hesse and Rheinland-Palatinate explained that protecting the U.S. president is the top priority.

Bush will be meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the Kurfürstliches Schloss, a castle along the Rhine River in Mainz, German officials said during the news conference.

They said they believe Bush will be visiting troops at nearby bases in Wiesbaden, but did not have any specifics.

However, Donna Dean, public affairs officer for the Army’s 221st Base Support Battalion in Wiesbaden, and Bob Purtiman, from the U.S. Army Europe office in Heidelberg, said they did not have any information on a planned presidential visit with the troops.

German officials also said first lady Laura Bush would be visiting American installations in Rheinland-Palatinate, which might include Ramstein Air Force Base or Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Army officials did not have any information on that trip.

Along with closing down highways and rivers, German schools in suburbs of Wiesbaden and Mainz will be closed for the day.

German officials apologized for the inconvenience, but said they were taking no chances after last year’s intelligence reports of a possible assassination of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi who visited Berlin in December.

“This is the biggest police event ever in the Rhein-Main area. Several thousand policemen will be on the job,” said Karlheinz Pfister, director of the Wiesbaden Police Department.

“Protecting the airspace is a new dimension to German safety measures after 9/11,” he said, adding that unauthorized planes would be shot down.

Pfister suggested that people who must travel during the visit take public transportation, which should be only mildly affected.

In Mainz, there will be a “red district” where only authorized people will be admitted. Outside of the red district, at least six anti-war demonstrations will be held during the president’s visit. There will be 15 others the day before, officials said.

Two hot lines have been set up to address transportation issues. In Rheinland-Palatinate, call 0800-1235123. In Hessen, call 0800-0002841. English-speaking operators will be available.


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