By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will host the Group of Eight summit at his Camp David retreat in the Maryland countyside, the White House said on Monday, instead of Chicago as initially planned.
The G-8 has attracted violent street protests in the past from activists who view it as a rich capitalist club that harms the interests of the poor.
But the White House played down security concerns as grounds for shifting the May 18-19 event to the more remote location 60 miles north of Washington in the scenic Catoctin Mountains, on a base run by the U.S. military.
"The president felt that Camp David would provide an informal and intimate setting to have a free-flowing discussion with his fellow leaders," said White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor.
The G-8 consists of France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, the United States, Russia and Britain.
Policy experts do view it as an good group in which to discuss delicate security issues, at a time Obama is seeking to maintain international pressure on Iran's nuclear program, and see it as much more manageable than bigger forums like the G-20.
Activists vow to flood Chicago's streets with "anarchic swarms" of thousands of people to confront the G-8 over surging youth unemployment in Europe and the United States, following Occupy Wall Street protests across the country last year.
Last week, Adbusters, the anti-consumerist magazine credited with creating the #OccupyWallStreet hashtag and providing the movement's philosophical underpinnings, sent out an e-mail to subscribers promising "a climactic showdown in Chicago" in May.
Andy Thayer, spokesman for the Coalition Against the NATO/G-8 War and Poverty Agenda, said that because NATO is the G-8's defacto military arm, protesters by the thousands will still flock to Chicago.
Local businesses had also voiced concern over the potential for disruption and damage to property, while the Chicago police had prepared for heavy duty during the event, as well as a NATO summit of leaders a few days later.
Obama will still host the NATO gathering in Chicago on May 20-21 as planned, in a sign that whatever qualms the authorities have over security, they see them as be manageable.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former Obama chief of staff, said in a statement that he wished the president and other G-8 leaders well at Camp David, and said that he looked forward to welcoming NATO leaders to Chicago.
The NATO summit "will be the premier opportunity this year for the president to continue his efforts to strengthen NATO...while charting the way forward in Afghanistan," the White House said. Most foreign combat troops are expected to have left the country by the end of 2014.
(Additional reporting by Karen Pierog and James Kelleher in Chicago; Editing by Sandra Maler and Philip Barbara)