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World: G-7 Meetings Start Amid Tight Security, Violent Clashes

  • Mark Baker

The annual G-7 plus Russia summit of heads of state and government has begun amid unprecedented security in the Mediterranean port city of Genoa. Anti-globalization protesters attempted to breach security checkpoints around the city center, where the leaders are discussing a range of economic, social, and development issues. RFE/RL correspondent Mark Baker is on the scene with this report.

Genoa, 20 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of anti-globalization protesters today converged on the center of the Italian port of Genoa, where leaders of the seven major industrialized democracies (the G-7) and Russia are meeting for three days of talks on economic and foreign-policy issues.

Demonstrators surrounded checkpoints along a 10-kilometer wall of chain-link fence that police had built around the city center to keep protesters from disrupting the annual G-7 plus Russia summit. The demonstrators then attempted to push through the checkpoints and succeeded in breaching at least one gate not far from the palace (Palazzo Ducale) where the summit is taking place. Police quickly drove the demonstrators back using tear gas and water cannons. Police say they detained five people.

About 20,000 Italian police had cordoned off the center of the city and the port area -- creating a no-man's land dubbed the "red zone" -- where the summit is being held. Security is tight and only police, summit participants and journalists are allowed entry.

Protest groups had earlier vowed to break into the red zone, which they say infringes on their democratic right to move freely around the city.

U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking today in London before leaving for Genoa, criticized the demonstrators. He said the protesters -- by opposing globalization -- embrace policies that promote poverty, rather than combat it:

"There are some who will try to disrupt the meetings claiming they represent the poor. To those folks, I say: 'Instead of embracing policies that represent the poor, you embrace polices that lock poor people into poverty.' And that is unacceptable to the United States."

Bush and leaders of host country Italy, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Canada met this afternoon to discuss economic and financial topics. Russian President Vladimir Putin was to join the group later, when the summit shifts its focus to social and development issues.

The most important economic issues being addressed are reforming the lending practices of the World Bank, reversing the global economic slowdown, and promoting another round of global trade talks aimed at reducing tariffs and trade barriers.

Bush said in London that demonstrators should embrace free trade rather than oppose it:

"Trade has been the best avenue for economic growth for all countries, and I reject the isolationism and protectionism that dominates those who would try to disrupt the meetings in Genoa."

Today's protest action was one of several planned this weekend by tens of thousands of demonstrators who have come to Genoa to show their opposition to the economic and social policies of the industrialized countries.

Last night, some 30,000 protesters gathered for a mostly peaceful march to support the rights of immigrants. Tomorrow the demonstrators are planning a group march that organizers hope will draw more than 100,000 people, the biggest crowd yet to oppose an international meeting.

Annalise is a 23-year-old spokeswoman for the Italian protest group Tute Bianche. The group's name refers to the signature white pants that group members wear. Tute Bianche is thought to be responsible for some of the worst violence at last month's European Union summit in Goteborg, Sweden.

Annalise tells RFE/RL her group does not support violence, but rather civil disobedience. She says the G-7 plus Russia -- because of its small number -- is inherently undemocratic:

"I think that eight people can't decide [everything] in the world."

She says members of her group wear white pants to draw attention to the plight of what she calls the "invisible" people of the world.

"Invisible people [are] all the people [who] haven't any rights in this world. So, these are [immigrants], women, people who are not strong in the society, students, working class and many, many people."

G-7 and Russian leaders are planning a full day of talks tomorrow on potentially divisive issues, including U.S. plans to build a missile defense system to protect against missiles fired by so-called rogue states such as Iraq or North Korea. Russia has opposed the plan because it would require the U.S. to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The plan is opposed by some European leaders, too, while others -- like Britain and Germany -- have been lukewarm in their support. Others European leaders, including those from Spain and Poland, back the plan.

U.S. opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, which is backed by the European Union, is also expected to be the subject of talks. The Kyoto accord places restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global climate change.

Bush pulled the United States out of the Kyoto process earlier this year, saying the restrictions imposed on the U.S. would hurt the American economy.

The leaders of the G-7 will also reaffirm areas of widespread agreement on issues such as supporting the intra-governmental peace talks in Macedonia and the Mitchell peace plan in the Middle East.

Leaders later today were also expected to announce the creation of a $1 billion fund to fight AIDS. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was to take part in the announcement.

Among other summits highlights, Bush and Putin will hold their second face-to-face meeting on Sunday, with missile defense likely to be the main topic of discussion. The summit ends on 22 July.