Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Anti-Globalization Protesters Block Access to G-8

By Patrick Donahue (Bloomberg)
June 6 (Bloomberg) -- Anti-globalization protesters blocked roads leading to the Group of Eight summit venue in the northern German seaside resort of Heiligendamm today, as they attempted to disrupt the arrival of world leaders and delegates.

Demonstrators avoided roadblocks and crossed through oat fields and forests to approach a 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) barbed- wire perimeter fence surrounding the hotel complex, blocking access to Heiligendamm from the press center 8 kilometers to the west at Kuehlungsborn.

``The organizers are very satisfied because so many people came to join us,'' said Sabine Zimpel, a spokeswoman for the protest groups. Some 15,000 people gathered for two main blockades at the fence -- where at one point both entrances were sealed off -- and around Rostock airport, where G-8 delegations were arriving, she said. ``It was a success,'' Zimpel said.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to quell violent demonstrators. Eight officers were injured in the clashes, which police said did not interrupt German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit host, from welcoming leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to Heiligendamm. Leaders arrived by helicopter from Rostock airport.

Riot Gear

In the main blockade at one of the entrances to Heiligendamm, at least six helicopters carrying police wearing full riot gear and wielding nightsticks were deployed as protesters reached a road running beside the fence, according to a Bloomberg News reporter at the scene.

Mounted officers took up positions between the fence and demonstrators, many of whom were dressed as clowns and taunting police. Near the fence, youths clad in black hoods could be seen using clamps and files to cut through a wire mesh, with rows of police nearby.

Later, on a road near the coast, protestors sat in a blockade chanting ``Block G-8'' and ``This is what democracy looks like!'' as police looked on. At one point, a half-built house occupied by demonstrators was stormed by police, infuriating the crowd of about 2,000.

Police vehicles were blocked by logs strewn across roads, while the rail line from Kuehlungsborn to Bad Doberan through Heilgendamm was also blocked by protesters. Russian delegation plans to organize two press conferences in Heiligendamm were thwarted when neither trains nor boats could get through. As many as 7,000 people were still occupying roads tonight, police spokeswoman Jessica Wessel said in an interview.

`Full Support'

``The police have my full support, it's not an easy job,'' Merkel told reporters today, adding that it was ``legitimate'' for heads of government and state to discuss global problems at Heiligendamm. ``We want to shape globalization in a human way.''

As the police and demonstrators clashed, Merkel had lunch with President George W. Bush. The U.S. president arrived late yesterday at Rostock airport and was met by some 500 demonstrators in various locations, according to police, before he flew on to Heiligendamm by helicopter.

``My big concern is that images of violence will overshadow the issues being discussed at the summit,'' Wolfgang Bosbach, a deputy parliamentary leader with Merkel's Christian Democrats and member of the lower house of parliament's interior affairs committee, said in an interview.

Rostock Violence

Several demonstrations against the G-8 meeting have been marred by outbreaks of violence. During a demonstration in Rostock on June 2, police fired tear gas and water cannons on hooded and masked youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Almost 1,000 police and demonstrators were injured. More violence followed two days ago, when hooded rioters ignited a smoke bomb. The authorities have drafted in 16,000 police officers from every state in Germany to patrol the summit.

Police were ``surprised by the size and scope of violence'' in Rostock, Bosbach said.

``The violence, of course it overshadows the event,'' Constanze Stelzenmueller, director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said in an interview. ``What I find startling is just how organized these guys are. What I would like to know is who these people speak for.''

Seventy-one percent of Germans say they approve of the police tactics in handling the demonstrations, against 21 percent who say the police actions were wrong, according to a poll by research organization Emnid for N24 television channel.

`Strong Forces'

Some 40 percent of respondents said the security measures implemented to protect the G-8 leaders were excessive, while 35 percent said they were sufficient and another 21 percent said they were not tight enough. The poll of 1,000 people was conducted June 4, with a margin of error of 2.5 percent.

``The police are operating with strong forces,'' Frank Scheulen, spokesman for police special forces unit ``Kavala,'' told N-TV television in an interview. ``There can be no talk about police having been surprised by protests.''

Protest organizers, which include anti-capitalist movement Attac, environmental organization Greenpeace, Germany's Left Party, church groups and labor unions, have distanced themselves from the violence, focusing on criticism of policies pursued by industrialized nations that they say benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and the environment.

``It was more a success than I'd suspected,'' Kevin Henry, a member of Committee for Workers International who had made the trip from Belfast, Northern Ireland, said in an interview. ``We were able to get to the barricades of the warmongers.''

The G-8 member states are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K. and U.S.

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