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Thurmont Extends Hand To G-8 Demonstrators

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(Credit: Mike Hellgren)

(Credit: Mike Hellgren)

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THURMONT, Md. (AP) — Ethiopian expatriates, unmanned drone replicas and an anti-nuclear Buddhist monk are heading to the Maryland mountain town of Thurmont in hopes of influencing world leaders at a global economic summit at nearby Camp David on Friday and Saturday.

They’ll join dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of demonstrators from East Coast occupy movements who plan to fill the sidewalks and the airwaves with messages protesting the bailout of U.S. banks and other large corporations.

Police aim to keep the demonstrators at least four miles from the presidential retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park where top officials from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations are meeting.

Merchants in the town of 6,200 have spruced up their stores and stocked their shelves in anticipation of visitors doing some shopping and dining between marching and chanting.

“As long as we treat them with a welcoming and respectful attitude, they’ll treat us the same way — at least that’s what my
hope is,” said Virginia LaRoche, owner of Timeless Trends Boutique on Main Street.

Some past G-8 meetings have been accompanied by large and sometimes violent protests.

This year’s G-8 Summit had been set for Chicago, just before a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit. The Obama administration moved the economic meeting to Camp David, but denied speculation that the sessions were moved for security reasons.

International events at the presidential retreat are part of Thurmont’s history, and town officials are encouraging residents to embrace rather than fear the summit. Flags of the participating nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain and United States — are displayed in a downtown park planted with red, white and blue flowers.

Beneath the flags, a community bulletin board displays news clippings from the Middle East peace talks at Camp David in 1978 and 2000.

At the Cozy, an 80-year-old country inn favored by the press corps, a Camp David museum showcases the town’s connection to historic events.

Pat Ridenour, co-owner of the Thurmont Kountry Kitchen, aims to sell lots of French onion and Maryland crab soup, and homemade fudge.

“I hope we do get as busy as everyone thinks we’re going to get,” she said.

The welcoming attitude contrasts with security measures the Secret Service and local police have been planning for months. Catoctin Mountain Park, a National Park Service property, is closed during the summit, as is neighboring Cunningham Falls State Park. Much of Route 77, which winds between the parks, is closed to all but local traffic.

The travel restrictions have put a crimp in Saturday’s annual mother-daughter dinner at Pioneer Baptist Church in Thurmont.

“We did have a few that were concerned and said they weren’t going to make an attempt,” said Pastor James Coblentz.

But Thurmont resident Amy Blickenstaff, who uses Route 77 to visit her mother in unincorporated Foxville, said the road closure is a minor inconvenience in light of the important events at Camp David.

“The world leaders can come together,” she said. “We’re the ones that have the ability to make the world a better place.”

A better world is also the goal of Toyoshige Sekiguchi, a Japanese Buddhist monk who walked from Pittsburgh to Thurmont, chanting and beating a prayer drum, to publicize his plea to the G-8 to abolish nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

Ethiopian national Kebadu Belachew of Washington said he hopes to bring several busloads of people from the city’s Ethiopian community to Thurmont on Saturday to protest the policies of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The Ethiopian prime minister is invited to the summit for food security talks.

And the Know Drones Tour plans to bring 11-foot replicas of the unmanned aircraft to Thurmont to protest America’s use of drones against terrorism suspects. Critics say drones are also being used for surveillance of the American public. They say drones turn the entire planet into a battlefield.

Members of Occupy Baltimore, lead organizer for the demonstrations, say they don’t expect to get anywhere near Camp
David and plan to focus instead on the news media in town.

“There’ll be lots of international press there to talk to and I think the word will get out,” said Dick Ochs, a retired Baltimore printer.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins said he’s not expecting any trouble from the demonstrators, who also have events planned in Frederick, 15 miles south of Thurmont.

“I think their intentions are strictly to demonstrate and wave signs and chant and maybe stand along the road and make their statements and move on,” he said.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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