Washington, 24 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The second day of NATO's 50th anniversary summit got under way in Washington today under brisk, sunny skies and strangely traffic-free streets.
For weeks, summit organizers were warning of a major traffic gridlock in Washington as the city was preparing to host more than 40 world leaders, their foreign ministers, other more junior officials and more than 3,000 journalists.
To avoid traffic jams and aid in security measures, the Federal Government gave more than 90,000 workers the day off on Friday. The city Government also asked many of its non-essential employees to stay home. In addition, it closed schools.
The predictions of monumental tie-ups did not come true. Streets were empty, except for the occasional motorcade and a few tourist buses. The scene moved one reporter for a local newspaper to write that "it was so quiet you could hear the lilting of birds on city streets."
Because of its military mission against Yugoslavia, NATO has toned-down the 50th anniversary celebrations.
At a White House dinner for the 19 NATO members and at a State Department dinner for some 250 foreign and defense ministers and their wives, the atmosphere Friday evening was sober.
U.S. President Bill Clinton told his guests in a toast at the White House: "We will look back on this summit, I think, and say, 'well, it wasn't one of those traditional meetings where we got to have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs because we were so greatly concerned for the suffering of the people in the Balkans.'"
A Tear From Albright
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is said to have shed a few tears when a uniformed Czech officer bearing the tricolor of his young democracy - the land of Albright's birth - took his place Friday in the NATO procession of allied flags.
A reporter said this happened when an announcer said: "The Berlin Wall fell ... and now NATO welcomes Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Albright, standing next to Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, gave him a thumbs-up as the two tipped their heads together with sentimental smiles. "Tears rolled down Albright's face," the reporter wrote.
Azeri President With 4,000 At Dinner
Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev skipped the dinner celebrations in Washington Friday to travel about 50 kilometers east to Annapolis in the state of Maryland where he set down to eat with some 4,000 midshipmen.
Annapolis, on the Chesapeake Bay is the sight of the U.S. Naval Academy where Aliyev and his entourage were given a sightseeing tour.
Said Aliyev: "I have never seen 4,000 people sit down at a meal at one time."
Lithuanians Thrilled by Basketball Win
Although Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is in Washington in connection with NATO's 50th anniversary summit, his heart on Friday was elsewhere: In Munich where Lithuania's team from Kaunis won the European Professional League championship. Our Lithuanian correspondent says Adamkus emerged from a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to announce victory -- in Munich on the basketball court.
The correspondent says the Lithuanian delegation was following progress at the game closely. "It's fantastic for us, like winning the NBA championship here," Adamkus was quoted as having said.
Adamkus, who spent much of his life after World War II in Chicago, is an ardent fan of that city's champion basketball team, the Bulls.
Demonstrators Support NATO Mission
More than 400 Albanian-Americans demonstrators urged NATO Friday to escalate the military action in Yugoslavia and help their beleaguered kinfolk return to Kosovo.
The protesters draped themselves in the red and black flag of Albania and shouted anti-Serbian slogans in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, and several blocks from where NATO's leaders were meeting.