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Anti-NATO Crowds Burn Hotel, Border Post

Firefighters battle flames at the Strasbourg hotel set alight during the NATO summit on April 4.
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) -- Anti-NATO protesters set ablaze a hotel and former frontier post on the Franco-German border and riot police fired volleys of tear gas and shock grenades to try to contain violence as alliance leaders met nearby on April 4.

Hundreds of demonstrators also torched tires, smashed shop windows, and ransacked a petrol station and a pharamacy.

The rioting was centered on the French side of the Bridge of Europe -- a road link over the Rhine River that connects France with Germany.

The bridge is 5 kilometers from the summit center where 28 NATO leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, were meeting.

Reuters television crews said youths had set fire to an Ibis hotel, a one-story border post, and a third building that was not immediately identified.

A German first aide volunteer said around 50 people had been hurt in the clashes with riot police.

Police on the German side of the border said they had arrested 13 divers who planned to interrupt the spectacle ahead of a footbridge event kicking off day-two summit activities.

Peaceful Plans

Protest organizers said they had wanted a peaceful protest and expressed shock at the violence.

"I am very angry. This was meant to be a peaceful demonstration...and tonight, instead of images of peace we will see images of war," said Marie-George Buffet, a veteran leader of the French Communist party.

Groups of protesters attempting to cross the Rhine from Germany via a nearby road bridge clashed briefly with French police and were forced back.

An Iranian journalist based in Germany collapsed with breathing difficulties earlier after being hit in with face with teargas and was taken away by ambulance, witnesses said.

Protest organizers said the majority of tens of thousands of activists in Strasbourg and nearby Baden-Baden did not aim to carry out violence and blamed tensions on security forces.

"No one here has attacked any police, but we have been hit with tear gas and beaten up," said spokesman Monty Schaedel.

Police said some of the protesters who left a designated demonstrators' campsite near Strasbourg early on April 4 were armed with sticks, barbed wire, and stones hidden in sacks.

Some 10,000 police officers were deployed around Strasbourg alone, with and around 1,800 demonstrators had reportedly set up temporary shelter near the city.

with additional agency reports