Pre-summit protest takes a violent turn

Activists, police clash at setting for G8 conference

June 03, 2007|By Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman | Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman,Los Angeles Times

ROSTOCK, Germany -- Sporadic violence erupted yesterday in this port city as radicals, their faces hidden by hoods and bandanas, broke from a largely peaceful anti-globalization protest and attacked police with sticks, bottles and Molotov cocktails ahead of this week's summit of leading industrialized nations.

Authorities said 146 police officers were injured, 25 of them seriously; 17 demonstrators were arrested. About 14,000 police officers lined the streets and harbor as helicopters skimmed overhead and boats patrolled the waters in one of Germany's tightest security operations since the end of the Cold War.

The city had been bracing for as many as 100,000 demonstrators, but police estimated the crowd at 25,000. Protest organizers said turnout was 80,000. Even that number would have been well short of expectations for an event billed as a kickoff to a series of protests leading to the Group of 8 meeting starting Wednesday in the nearby resort at Heiligendamm. President Bush and other world leaders have yet to arrive.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will host the leaders of Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada and the U.S. for discussions on global warming, aid to Africa and the global economy. The summit, like past ones, is attracting protesters opposed to capitalism, globalization, the war in Iraq and the G-8. Carrying backpacks and banners, the protesters, including anarchists, peaceniks, unionists, communists and Boy Scouts, descended here under the motto "Another world is possible." Demonstrators criticized the U.S., Germany and other nations over war, global warming, exploiting Third World labor and failing to stop the spread of AIDS or relieve African nations of their huge debts.

"I'm not actually against globalization, but I don't want a `Club of Riches' like the G-8 to manage it," said Gerda Finke, a pensioner from Rostock. "The way we have given foreign aid to the developing world for the last 30 years can't go on like this. The African countries, for example, are being exploited by their debts."

The demonstrators assembled in tent camps and fields and then moved toward Rostock, where they split into two groups before joining at the harbor for speeches and rock music. The scene was an ideological patchwork of symbols and icons, streaked with tear gas and smoke from burning cars. Placards of Che Guevara bobbed amid signs that read "Welcome to the Central Committee of Capitalism: Osama W. Bush and Gas Putin" and "Those who don't take from the Rich can't give to the Poor."

Leaflets handed out by demonstration organizers accused G-8 members of being aloof from international problems.

"The world shaped by the dominance of the G-8 is a world of war, hunger, social divisions, environmental destruction and barriers against migrants and refugees," the leaflet said. "We want to protest this and show the alternatives."

Security officials said 2,000 violent anarchists and radicals infiltrated the demonstration in Rostock. By dusk, police used water cannons to isolate gangs of stone-throwing demonstrators downtown. A police spokesman told German media that a number of protesters were "definitely seeking a confrontation with police."

A protest organizer, Monty Schaedel, said, "If 20 police officers equipped with heavy combat suits, helmets and rubber bats go into a crowd of 1,000 demonstrators, this can be only understood as a provocation."

In recent weeks, police raided the offices of left-wing organizations and were criticized by constitutional rights groups for lifting "scent samples" from suspected militants so dogs could track them in crowds.

Authorities also banned a planned neo-Nazi anti-globalization march in Schwerin, about 50 miles southwest of Rostock, fearing that violence would break out between right- and left-wing extremists. Police in the region said that most of their units had been sent to Rostock, and that they were understaffed and unable to secure a second rally.

Karsten Steinbrenner traveled from Austria to march in the demonstration. His purpose, he said, was simple: "I'm from the environmental movement. We have to do something on global warming. Now. Urgently. Otherwise beautiful Rostock won't be on the Baltic Sea in 50 years. It will be in the Baltic."

Christian Retzlaff and Jeffrey Fleishman write for the Los Angeles Times.

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