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Security paramount for conference

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More than 600 protesters were arrested in June at the G-20 summit in Toronto, where clashes with police led to burning squad cars and shattered store windows — a situation local authorities are already working to avoid at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference here next year.

APEC will meet in Honolulu in November 2011, and security is paramount when the leaders of 21 countries and their entourages descend on the Hawai’i Convention Center.

About 20,000 visitors are expected in all.

While business leaders are hopeful that the weeklong conference will create an opportunity for the state to promote itself as a business-class tourism destination, security is already a focus of federal, state and city law enforcement leaders.

Global conferences can be a magnet for protests. There were no reports of serious injuries to either demonstrators or police in Toronto, but such gatherings can on occasion turn ugly.

Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, who as adjutant general heads the state Department of Defense, said he doesn’t expect that to happen here.

"We are going to have enough security for APEC 2011," Lee said.

Federal enforcement agencies will provide resources to help Honolulu police, and more than 5,500 Army and Air National Guard troops will also be available to help if necessary, he said.


The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, based in Singapore, was established in 1989 as a forum for facilitating economic growth, cooperation, trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Unlike the other multilateral trade bodies, APEC has no treaty obligations required of the countries that participate. Decisions made within APEC are reached by consensus and commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis.

APEC has 21 members, referred to as "member economies," which account for about 40.5 percent of the world’s population, about 54.2 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and about 43.7 percent of world trade.


That’s not to say demonstrators won’t be welcome.

"Certainly, there’s opportunity for protest," said Peter Ho, chairman of the private, nonprofit APEC Hawaii Host Committee set up to help support the conference. "That’s part of the fiber of our country."

Josh Cooper, one of the local leaders of protests that took place when the Asian Development Bank held its 2001 conference in Honolulu, said people should expect similar demonstrations.

Lee said demonstrators should and will have a right to free speech as long as they don’t try to disrupt the conference itself.

"I wouldn’t be encouraging any organizations that would be disruptive of APEC 2011," he said.

Cooper said protests can be expected at any global summit that fails to earnestly discuss the environment and human rights.

"If the heads of state keep their heads in the sand of Waikiki, talking only trade and tariffs without including important issues of trafficking and the trees in the Asia-Pacific region, people will demand more from the meeting," he said.

Expect "strong representation of indigenous peoples, climate change campaigners, women’s rights activists and global justice advocates," Cooper said.

Local officials said they are optimistic that a repeat of Toronto won’t happen, for several reasons.

First, APEC conferences typically have not been a lightning rod for protests, Ho said.

"If you look at the history of APEC, it’s not really been subject to the types of situations that you see with some of the other organizations," he said.

Second, Lee said, Hawaii’s remote location works to its advantage.

"It’s certainly helpful that protesters would need to pay a lot of money to fly in on an airline to come to this — much more difficult than driving into Los Angeles or San Francisco," he said.

When nearly 3,000 people from 60 countries attended the Asian Development Bank’s conference at the Hawaii Convention Center in 2001, the state had estimated as many as 5,000 protesters would accompany them. Instead, only about 500 turned out and there were no arrests.

The additional state and city security cost about $3.3 million. Congress voted to reimburse half that amount.

But that was pre-9/11.

This time around, obtaining federal support isn’t expected to be as difficult.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, is expected soon to designate the 2011 APEC conference a National Special Security Event, or NSSE, making Hawaii eligible to tap federal resources, including cash and law enforcement personnel.

The designation is typically given to U.S. events attended by a large number of dignitaries and which hold "national significance," thus requiring larger-scale security coordination. Previous NSSEs have included national political conventions, Super Bowls and the Academy Awards.

Exactly how much the state and city will be reimbursed for security of the event still is to be determined.

Ho is optimistic.

"The intent is to get our community reimbursed for all of the expenditures we lay out," he said.

Marsha Weinert, the state’s tourism liaison, said one key thing to watch is if Napolitano designates the entire week’s worth of activities as an NSSE, or just the Nov. 12-13 weekend, when the so-called "leaders’ meeting" takes place.

Once the gathering is declared an NSSE, the U.S. Secret Service becomes the lead federal agency for design and implementation of an operational security plan with the help of local law enforcement officers, said Max Milien, a spokesman for the Secret Service.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is put in charge of any "crisis management" issues, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency is tasked with "consequence management," Milien said.

Local law enforcement agencies have also begun preparing.

The Honolulu Police Commission recently got a briefing from members of HPD’s Special Field Operations Bureau/APEC Planning Group on their trip to the June G-20 summit in Toronto. The presentation was held behind closed doors due to security reasons.

They also will attend this fall’s APEC conference in Yokohama, Japan.

Asked what HPD officials learned in Toronto, police Maj. Clayton Kau said: "We learned that the law enforcement agencies involved in the G-20 conference did an excellent job planning for the event. We learned how much time and resources are needed to plan for a successful event."

HPD has begun to identify special training and equipment it might need to employ "to address crowd control (illegal protests), venue security and dignitary protection," Kau said. HPD will need to purchase bicycles, protective equipment and uniforms, as well as pay for specialized training and the rental of vans, he said.

The city has allocated $28 million over two years for APEC-related costs, about $22 million of that for HPD.

The state also has a tentative budget, Lee said, but he declined to say how much.


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