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Wave of dignitaries tests city protocol, security

By Jennifer Harper
April 18, 2008



Lourdes B. Green of Silver Spring watches the sun rise yesterday as she awaits the start of the papal Mass. It took more than three days to transform Nationals Park from a ball field into a place of worship.

It's a tricky equation, even for the capital of the Free World:


1 pope + 1 spiffy popemobile + 1 president + 1 prime minister + 1 vice president + a cast of thousands = a very hectic 24 hours inside the Beltway.


Indeed, in the past two days, the city hosted Pope Benedict XVI and his fine ride, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mohammad Karim Khalili, one of the two vice presidents of Afghanistan.


South Korean President Lee Myung-bak arrived yesterday for a visit — not to mention eager throngs anticipating the D.C. Hip Hop & Peacebuilding Festival and X-Conference 2008, a forum exploring all things extraterrestrial — both of which will run through the weekend.


"It's always busy at the White House, but I would say that this week has been something else," said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore. "During Pope Benedict's appearance on the South Lawn on Wednesday, there were 13,500 people attending. That breaks all records for an event like this, as far back as all our curators can remember."


Queen Elizabeth II of Britain only rated 7,000 last May. But such is life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


"These kind of things are part of the job description. We're excited — and we're still excited — about the pope and our other visitors," she added.


And such is life at the State Department, as well. The agency must coordinate perfect protocol, white-glove diplomacy and ironclad security with a certain panache and within a certain time frame.


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