G20 2009 : la peur de l’émeute
Strasbourg en état de siège pour le sommet de l’Otan
Alors que des manifestants violents risquent d’affluer de l’Europe entière, près de 25 000 policiers français et allemands quadrillent les rives du Rhin.
En comité restreint, Michèle Alliot-Marie dit craindre la tempête, et les responsables de la Place Beauvau carguent les voiles. Le sommet de l’Otan des 3 et 4 avril prochains à Strasbourg sera celui de tous les dangers. Celui de l’extravagance et de la démesure, pour célébrer, ou conspuer, au choix, le soixantième anniversaire de l’Alliance atlantique. À plus d’un titre, la réunion des 27 chefs d’État et de leur délégation va transformer la capitale alsacienne en citadelle assiégée. Pendant quarante-huit heures, deux gigantesques «bulles» sécurisées vont sanctuariser les abords du palais des congrès, dans les quartiers du Wacken, théâtre du sommet, ainsi que les environs du Palais des Rohan, où les chefs d’État goûteront à la haute gastronomie d’Émile Jung. Pour circuler en centre-ville, classé «zone rouge» et rendu impraticable par 50 000 barrières, il faudra montrer patte blanche. Les habitants des 7 000 foyers qui y sont établis circuleront grâce à l’un des 40 000 laissez-passer spéciaux fournis par le commissariat. «Ne pourront accéder à pied ou à vélo que les résidents ou professionnels dûment recensés sur présentation de ce sésame», précise-t-on à la mairie. «Strasbourg est une ville bunker, une ville fantôme, une cité verrouillée et impraticable», éructent de leur côté les détracteurs. Ulcérés de vivre en «camp retranché», ces Strasbourgeois un rien bravaches ont pavoisé leurs fenêtres de drapeaux arc-en-ciel, symbole de paix. Le maire (PS), Roland Ries, en a lui-même piqué une colère.
Il faut bien dire que le campus universitaire et ses 42 000 étudiants ont gelé leurs activités dès samedi dernier. Et qu’une partie des 100 écoles de la ville, des piscines, stades et gymnases resteront portes closes durant le sommet. Côté transports, thromboses et paralysie guettent aussi le rendez-vous des puissants. Pendant que les poids lourds seront déroutés à 250 kilomètres au nord, le trafic ferroviaire sera paralysé entre Strasbourg et Kehl en Allemagne, et l’autoroute A 35 bordant l’ouest de la ville sera coupée lors des passages de convois officiels parfois pharaoniques.
À lui seul, l’aréopage accompagnant Barack Obama devrait être composé de 800 agents, conseillers et gardes du corps. Longtemps, la vedette américaine du sommet a laissé planer le plus grand mystère sur son lieu de résidence. L’idée, un temps évoquée, que le président des États-Unis puisse s’établir sur la base voisine de l’US Air Force, à Ramstein, a été abandonnée. En fait, des «précurseurs» du Secret Service, arrivés sur place depuis fin février, ont passé au peigne fin le Hilton de Strasbourg, où le successeur de George W. Bush établira ses quartiers.
Cinq à six mille «casseurs» attendus
«Tout le monde est concentré sur le sommet, dont la vitrine médiatique risque d’aimanter des manifestants violents venus de l’Europe entière», confie-t-on au ministère de l’Intérieur. Les manifestants allemands et français pourraient voir leurs divisions décuplées par l’arrivage de militants des PCEr-Grapo espagnols, de la lutte révolutionnaire (EA) grecque, de la Federazione dei comunisti anarchici d’Italie, de Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front d’Afrique du Sud, de l’Union communiste libertaire du Canada ou encore du North-Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists des États-Unis. Parmi eux, 5 000 à 6 000 «casseurs» devraient converger vers Strasbourg, selon la police. Proche de l’ultra-gauche et des anarcho-autonomes, ils auraient prévu de se fondre aux coordinations anti-Otan. Officiellement répertoriées, elles organisent déjà un dantesque contre-sommet entre le 1er et le 5 avril.
Surfant sur l’anti-impérialisme, l’antimilitarisme, le retrait des troupes en Afghanistan, l’antiglobalisation, voire la lutte contre le réchauffement climatique, ce front contestataire s’installera dans un «village autogéré». S’étendant sur une dizaine d’hectares à l’extrémité sud de la ville, sur les terrains d’une ferme éducative au Neuhof, il devrait abriter 10 000 protestataires . «Dans un premier temps, ils pensaient camper de part et d’autre du fleuve , affirme une source renseignée. Mais, lorsque les autorités allemandes ont voulu faire payer leur emplacement plusieurs milliers d’euros, ils se sont repliés sur la rive gauche française. »
Pour haranguer et mobiliser la foule contestataire, Internet bruisse de messages évocateurs. Brocardant la «phobie sécuritaire» de l’Otan, des libertaires trouvent soudain des accents gaulliens avec le pastiche «Strasbourg outragée, Strasbourg brisée, Strasbourg martyrisée, mais…». Strasbourg y est réduit à un «territoire occupé» et le sommet à une grand-messe atlantiste juste célébrée pour «préparer les futures guerres pour le contrôle des ressources de la planète». Comme l’ONU, le FMI, le G8, le G20, l’OMC, l’Otan est assimilée à un «instrument du capitalisme pour renforcer l’exploitation des travailleuses, des travailleurs et des peuples». Réchauffée mais toujours efficace, la dialectique pourrait fédérer jusqu’à 70 000 participants lors d’une manifestation unitaire prévue samedi 4 avril.
Face à cette assemblée en rouge et noir qui n’aura rien du jamboree, la Direction centrale de la sécurité intérieure (DCRI) tend ses «grandes oreilles» depuis des semaines. Et le ministère de l’Intérieur prévoit l’un des plus imposants dispositifs jamais imaginés. Selon nos informations, pas moins de 85 escadrons de gendarmerie mobile et Compagnies républicaines de sécurité seront mobilisés pour former un « cataplasme bleu» sur Strasbourg et ses environs. Il faut remonter au soixantième anniversaire du Débarquement et à la protection des plages normandes en 2004 pour voir un tel branle-bas de combat. Otan oblige, une armada de 10 000 hommes quadrillera donc le siège du Parlement européen, sécurisera les sites classés Seveso ou encore les gazoducs traversant le secteur, tandis que les vedettes de la gendarmerie fluviale sillonneront le Rhin, embarquant sonars et plongeurs pour déjouer la moindre menace subaquatique.
Redoutable effet de loupe médiatique
Dans le même temps, unités en scaphandres nucléaires, radiologiques, biologiques et chimiques resteront en réserve et une flotte de curieux blindés équipés de treuils et de chasse-neige ronronneront à proximité pour dégager d’éventuels obstacles. Enfin, quelque 500 gardes du corps français issus du Service de protection des hautes personnalités et des CRS veilleront sur les cortèges et les sites d’hébergements de treize délégations, dont celle de la France, bien sûr, mais aussi des États-Unis.
En alerte maximale, les Allemands, qui ont prévu de déployer pour leur part 15 000 hommes, dont leurs experts de la Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), prendront en charge l’autre moitié des officiels. En cas de coup dur, militaires d’élite du GIGN et homologues policiers du Raid ont fait le voyage. «Nous ne sommes jamais à l’abri d’une prise d’otages ou d’un détournement aérien», souffle un officier sous le couvert de l’anonymat. Le chef des services de renseignement intérieurs allemands Heinz Fromm, président de l’Office fédéral pour la protection de la constitution, craint pour sa part un «potentiel activiste de quelque 3 000 personnes». «La forte mobilisation de l’ultra-gauche et des anarcho-autonomes, en France comme en Allemagne, nous fait craindre des modes d’expression violents, comme lors de la réunion du G8 à Gênes en 2001», grince un policier de haut rang. Dès juin dernier, un rapport «confidentiel défense» des services de renseignement français affirmait que ces militants «intégrant les “black blocs” de toutes les grandes contestations altermondialistes européennes» ont décidé de mettre en place une «force organisée transnationale de subversion destinée à commettre des actions violentes dans les prochains mois ». «Strasbourg 2009 pourrait être ce lieu de rendez-vous», craint un autre policier de haut rang.
Persuadés que «les plus déterminés déclencheront des émeutes pour ensuite filmer ce qu’ils présenteront comme de la répression policière», les stratèges de la Place Beauvau ont imaginé une parade : embarquer des caméras dans chaque unité d’intervention afin de filmer leur propre version des incidents. Pour les livrer à la presse, s’il le faut. «Nos adversaires ont pris l’habitude de se servir de la communication comme d’une arme contre l’autorité de l’État, confie-t-on dans l’entourage de Michèle Alliot-Marie. Nous emploierons les mêmes méthodes pour défendre la légitimité de notre action…»
Outre de nouveaux «éléments violents», se protégeant de plus en plus avec des équipements de hockey sur glace, les spécialistes du maintien de l’ordre ont vu émerger depuis dix ans une nouvelle génération de manifestants. Altermondialistes, pacifistes et écologistes, ils s’illustrent lors de sommets internationaux par de très audacieux happenings visant à paralyser des cérémonies. «Très entraînés, déroulant des trésors d’ingéniosité, ces militants non-violents s’entravent à des poids lourds, s’enchaînent à des tubulures d’acier dans des arbres, s’accrochent aux lampadaires ou sur des grues parfois hautes de 60 mètres , constate le lieutenant-colonel Francis Mézières, responsable de la division ordre public au Centre national d’entraînement des forces de gendarmerie de Saint-Astier. Plusieurs heures sont parfois nécessaires avant de libérer les gens contre leur gré…» Une cellule de huit instructeurs gendarmes experts en la matière a été projetée sur les bords du Rhin début avril avec des disqueuses thermiques et des tronçonneuses. Ces manifestants de l’extrême se verront proposer casque antibruit et lunettes de protection lors de leur désincarcération. Là encore, les scènes seront toutes filmées. Plus que jamais, le moindre incident au sommet de Strasbourg, où 2 500 journalistes sont attendus, connaîtra un redoutable effet de loupe médiatique. Garant de la paix dans le monde, le rendez-vous de l’Otan sera le théâtre d’une originale guerre des images.
London Braces For Massive Protests Of G-20 Meeting
2009-03-29 02:33:24 (4 hours ago)
London is bracing itself for the G-20 meeting next week, as thousands of demonstrators prepare to descend upon the British capital. While most protesters will be peaceful, those working in the financial industry are being advised not to wear suits to work or even to stay at home to avoid potential violence.
Mirina Pepper has just been panhandled by a homeless man near London‘s Liverpool Street Station. She reaches into her handbag and grabs a bundle of £20 notes. "Here, you can give them out," she says. The homeless man looks perplexed at the notes, not knowing whether he should take this as a good or bad thing.
It’s funny money with the words "G-20 Meltdown" printed on it. They’re flyers for a "Party in the City." Pepper gets the homeless man to agree to come the event next Wednesday and to bring along as many of his buddies as he can. Another homeless man just a few meters away experiences the same fate.
Pepper, 41, is responsible for organizing "G-20 Meltdown," a coalition of groups that plan to protest against the London financial summit next week that has even earned the respect of Scotland Yard. "They have some very clever people and their intention on April 1 is to stop the City," Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Metropolitan Police said last week. "They are innovative and we have to be innovative, too."
The policeman’s concerns put a smile on Pepper’s face. She’s delighted by the idea of a cat and mouse chase through this city of more than 7.5 million people. "It’s all a question of numbers," she says. Five-thousand police officers will be deployed, many in combat gear. It’s the largest police operation the city has seen in 10 years. But there are doubts about whether that will be enough. Police will have to provide security for 22 world leaders, including the United States president, and 40 motorcades will have to be directed through the streets of London. In addition, dozens of embassies and hotels will have to be guarded, the conference center has to be sealed off from the public and the banks in the city’s financial district will also have to be guarded from potentially violent anarchist protesters.
It’s a mission with an incalculable outcome – after all, nobody knows how many people will actually turn up. Current estimates put the figure at about 3,000. That may not be a huge figure, but with technologies like Twitter and mobile phone text messaging, the demonstrators have become dangerously mobile. For weeks, protesters have been discussing possible locations for their actions in Internet forums and they have also leaked out names to the public. The idea is to send out decoys to throw police off, so that they focus their efforts on the wrong people.
‘In Emergencies, the English Make Tea’
The G-20 summit is scheduled to take place on April 2 at the Excel Center conference facility in east London’s Docklands area. The first anti-summit protest is expected to take place on Saturday. Over 100 non-profit organizations and labor unions have called a protest march. But the most creative event will take place on April 1. At 11 a.m., parade floats will depart from four different Underground stations and head towards the financial district before forming a cross in front of the Bank of England, where a "Bankers Banquet" is planned.
"It will be very funny and very English," Pepper promises. She says she’ll be schlepping an old copper kettle along to the picnic. "In emergencies, the English make tea," she explains.
Climate change activists in London, who tend to spend their time fighting against the expansion of the city’s airports, want to create a 24-hour "Climate Camp" tent city in front of the European Climate Exchange on Liverpool Street. At the same time, a giant iceberg is going to be placed in front of the Excel Center that will slowly melt.
Another action is planned in front of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the financial institution that has so far cost British taxpayers the most money. Another march will be directed towards the US Embassy. Meanwhile, G-20 critics will hold a shadow summit at the University of East London near the conference center. On April 2, the plan is to get as close to the Excel Center as they possibly can – though with massive security measures in place, protesters are unlikely to get too far.
Anarchist Groups Gear Up for Violence
Police and activists agree that they have never seen so many groups planning to take to the streets. Most of them will stage peaceful demonstrations, often with a political message about climate change (as environmentalists struggle to keep the issue on the agenda despite the financial crisis).
Militants, on the other hand, are gearing up for a "summer of anger." Police fears were vindicated when, on Tuesday night, vandals attacked the Edinburgh villa of former Bank of Scotland chief Fred Goodwin, breaking windows and damaging his Mercedes.
A blog by the self-declared anarchist Ian Bone celebrated the attack with the headline "Fat Cats in Terror across Europe." He called for a "bold and resolute anarchist bloc at Saturday’s march" and ended with the rallying cry: "Your class needs you – be there!"
In February, the group "Government of the Dead" publicly hung a puppet of a banker. Meanwhile, Bone’s anarchist troop "Class War" harbors its own fantasies of violence. A recent edition of their newspaper called for the burning of bankers. The current edition has the slogan "Ready to Riot" above a picture of Fred Goodwin’s head on the guillotine.
There is a chance this will all turn out to be empty rhetoric. In the City of London the business community is worried. Industry organizations like the Chamber of Commerce are recommending that members leave their suits and ties at home to avoid provoking the demonstrators. Leading banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS have told their employees to work from home wherever possible and postpone meetings.
The financial district has witnessed a string of protests in recent months – but none of them turned violent. This time round, organizers are also urging that the demonstration should be peaceful. Their aim could be aided by "protest tourists" staying at home. Activists from France and Germany will likely converge on the NATO summit in Strasburg, where Obama is expected on April 3.
Initiated into the Protest Culture
Even without an influx of visitors, there is enough simmering anger in London. The mood is very different from the G-8 summit at Gleneagles in Scotland, Pepper says. During the boom years street protests were not popular but in this crisis new generations are being initiated into the protest culture. And while there will be the usual civil disobedience, there are also ideas like pouring sand onto the streets and allowing kids to play there.
Ironically the G-20 gathering is the first in generations to try to restrain global capitalism with rules and regulations. Protesters, in theory, could take comfort that some of their old demands are now being tackled. At the same time, the exclusive G-8 gang is, in effect, consigned to history and developing countries are joining the debate. Former taboo subjects like tax havens and banker bonuses are among the topics to be discussed.
The coalition of protesters still see the event as the "biggest April Fool’s Joke of all time," according to their Web site. In their eyes, this summit will be mostly about saving the banks. They want to articulate the widespread resentment that tax payers are having to pick up the tab for the City’s (London’s financial district) reckless gambling.
They will probably achieve their goal of immobilizing the whole financial district – not least because of the logistics of the G-20 itself. There will be severe traffic blockages due to the 40 delegations driving from the embassies to the conference center in the east of the city. Demonstrators also plan to indirectly recruit the police to help hinder the opening of the London Stock Exchange on April 2. "All you have to do is announce you are planning something and they start building up a ring of defense around the building," said Pepper.
G20 protests dominate newspapers
29 mars 2009
Protests before and after Thursday’s G20 summit of world leaders dominate the Sunday papers.
The Observer shows a photograph of a placard held by a demonstrator on Saturday which read "We’re all doomed".
The Independent on Sunday says the summit has stirred people’s "hopes and fears" while the Sunday Express reports that "discontent is widespread".
The News of the World likens tackling the global meltdown to fighting a war and calls for "cool heads".
The People suggests the only "whiff of British culture" world leaders will experience is the smell of rotten eggs hurled by eco-warriors.
Fears of "rent-a-mob hooligans" and rioters coming out of retirement are reported by the Sunday Mirror.
But Clive Bloom – an academic writing in the Sunday Telegraph – thinks a full-scale riot is unlikely.
The Sunday Times wonders why Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised expectations the summit might be a means to save the world.
MPs expenses feature prominently in the Mail on Sunday which thinks the time has come to scrap the whole system.
The paper suggests ending the current system of allowances and replacing it with "legitimate and modest expenses".
The Sunday Times claims the dependence of vital services like power and water on computers exposes Britain to the risk of "cyber attack".
The paper also reports on a letter from poet and publisher TS Eliot rejecting George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm.
The Independent on Sunday says government advisers are to review defences against "forgotten" diseases.
It follows a steep rise in cases of whooping cough and scarlet fever reported by doctors, it says.
The Sunday Mirror claims Coleen Rooney – the wife of England striker Wayne – is three months pregnant.
The News of the World claims Prince William has revealed that he wants to go to war and fight for his country in Afghanistan.
G20: Risk of riots? Or London having an anxiety attack?
There are blood-curdling warnings of protesters running amok. At the very least, there will be disruption. Rachel Shields and Jonathan Owen report
Sunday, 29 March 2009
The Metropolitan Police have rolled out a security operation of "unprecedented" scale and complexity for the the G20 Summit this week. With the prospect of mass demonstrations around central London, they have told bankers to keep a low profile and warned that a hardcore of anarchists and anti-globalisation protesters are bent upon violence.
The series of demonstrations began yesterday with the Put People First march, organised by a coalition of 150 trade unions, charities and religious groups. However, there was little trouble as some 35,000 people marched from the Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park in a carnival atmosphere. One person was arrested, for being drunk and disorderly.
The flashpoints are more likely to begin on Wednesday 1 April, which campaigners have declared Financial Fools’ Day. A demonstration will be held outside the Bank of England in which protesters plan to drink tea and sell home-baked cakes.
Camp for Climate Action, which organised protests at Heathrow airport and Kingsnorth power station, is planning a 24-hour camp in the City of London. Further protests are planned the next day in Docklands outside the ExCeL centre, where the summit will take place.
Smaller actions are also scheduled around the Square Mile, and police are monitoring social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to gather intelligence. On the day, officers will be watching the events on CCTV monitors at the police control centre in Lambeth, south London.
Commander Bob Broadhurst, of the Met, is leading the policing operation which he said would cost some £7.2m. The Met has cancelled all leave and placed its full force of 37,000 officers on standby. They will be joined by colleagues from a further five forces: the City of London Police, British Transport Police and the Essex, Sussex and Bedfordshire forces.
While police believe most demonstrations will be peaceful, they say some groups are inciting protesters to engage in violence. Material circulated online offers advice on how to attack the police, in one case suggesting throwing paint and a "constant hail of debris" to create "sterile zones into which the police won’t go".
The police have advised bankers and lawyers to dress down to avoid being marked out as City workers, to leave their cars at home and use public transport, to cancel meetings and to forgo outdoor cigarette breaks.
Banks and multinational companies have engaged the services of security consultancies. Starbucks has hired security guards for its coffee shops and McDonald’s has had staff trained by the Met in handling protesters.
"We consider it a high-risk situation," said Eden Mendel, of Kroll Security Consulting Group. "An unprecedented number of people are going to be in a small space at once. There is a risk things could get out of hand."
"Protests may surpass any since 1999 in intensity," said David Lea, of the international consultancy Control Risks, referring to the clashes between police and anti-globalisation campaigners outside that year’s World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle.
Police admit that their security plans for the G20 Summit on Thursday and the protests the day before are likely to cause considerable disruption to Londoners throughout the week, with a spokesperson insisting: "We are trying to reduce the chaos it causes."
Peter Power, a former Scotland Yard security specialist who works for a consultancy, said: "The disruption is not just the event itself. It is almost certain that most of the disruption will be caused by the prevention."
The demonstrators have their own methods for dealing with outbreaks of violence. Mark Barrett, one of the organisers of the protest outside the Bank of England, said that if trouble kicked off stewards would order everyone to simply sit down, showing up the violent element as a minority.
London has been put on alert for the week ahead. Here is some of the advice that has been given to people who might be affected by protests against the G20 summit:
Bankers Work from home; dress down; cancel meetings; use public transport.
Security staff "Anticipate anything"; liaise with police.
Canning Town residents Strongly advised to carry two forms of ID; prepare for stop and search; don’t use cars.
Emergency Services Will be disrupted; ambulance stations relocated; more police patrols; no GP home visits.
ExCeL conference centre No access; local businesses including shops and nurseries to be closed.
Rail Three Docklands Light Railway stations will be shut on Thursday.
Roads Roads near the summit and in central London to be closed; traffic diverted.
Shops Protest-training for staff; extra security; police guards.
Police Rest days cancelled; 37,000 officers on standby.
Airports Leaders arriving at airports and RAF bases; extra police patrols.
The age of rage
29 mars 2009
Anger building as G20 meets in London
BANNERS AND manners marked the first demonstration in London yesterday at the start of the G20 summit week. With the Metropolitan Police beginning the most expensive security operation ever mounted in the capital, yesterday’s gathering of 35,000 protesters from 150 organisations, billed as the Put People First march, went off with no arrests and none of the forecasted riots or civic disorder. However, the Met say clashes cannot be ruled out in larger marches and protests planned over the next four days as world leaders arrive for the London summit.
Thousands of police officers who patrolled the route between the Embankment and a closing rally in Hyde Park seemed surprised at how peaceful and calm the mood of the marchers were given advanced warnings that the trade-union-backed march could be hijacked by anarchist groups and others seeking a violent clash with the police to mark what authorities believe could be a "summer of rage".
However, as the march passed the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, by the Treasury and Downing Street and along a fence on Whitehall where hundreds of bricks were left neatly stacked and wrapped in polythene and within a stones throw of Number 10, there seemed little prospect that the police expected a leisurely march to change to a mob. Behind bands and banners, branches of Lloyds, RBS and Barclays all came and went without incident. Then came Trafalgar Square, the scene of poll tax riots in the early 1990s, and the glitzy shops of Piccadilly and the West End.
The line of protesters made their way peacefully towards Hyde Park. Police organisers must have realised that if their intelligence is correct and there are advanced plans to "Reclaim London" and "Storm the City", it was not going to happen then.
Banners asking "Can we overthrow this government: yes we can" and "Bankers, bosses and politicians: up against the wall" – alongside calls for peace in Gaza, action on climate change, justice on jobs and a rainbow of other calls on the G20 world leaders to focus on their cause – made the protest look unfocused.
However, with mayhem absent, the organisers seemed pleased that the first large gathering had passed without incident. Yesterday was seen as the first test for the Met, and police intelligence that said the march was likely to be peaceful and trouble-free proved correct.
Police now face five days of further front-line confrontations between the groups which have converged on London for the G20.
Although yesterday’s march passed off peacefully, the Met maintain they still have to plan for intelligence they claim points to other G20 protests being "very violent". This has meant police, alongside Home Office intelligence officials, using the last two weeks trying to convince the huge array of protest groups converging on London that policing of the G20 will, according to one Met source, "plan for the worst and expect less".
With 5000 police officers, personnel taken from six forces, and thousands more on stand-by should they be needed, the security operation in London this week is the most expensive single police operation in British history. All police leave has been cancelled to deal with the various tasks facing the Met.
Sir Paul Stephenson, head of Scotland Yard, said that protecting the G20s venues, protecting the visiting dignitaries and protecting the routes they will use was just one part of his force’s responsibilities.
If "the worst" does arrive, this week will mark the beginning of what some have already called a "summer of rage", a potentially global wave of citizen unrest, street battles and civil disorder, where victims of the downturn take to the barricades in a show of anger at the financial institutions held responsible for the onset of recession and mass unemployment, and against politicians who failed to regulate and curtail the economic catastrophe. Into this cocktail of fury senior police officers are adding a new ingredient absent from large-scale riots last seen on British streets in the 1980s – an angry middle class who have seen their progress of the last 20 years threatened.
There was no evidence of such a coalition on show yesterday, with the demonstration held in more of a carnival atmosphere than that of high tension. Police were called upon to do very little other than observe. However, some on the march did predict that serious disruption could not be ruled out.
A teacher from Manchester, and an Italian trade unionist on the march, both said yesterday’s march was "always going to a family event". The Italian added: "Tomorrow? People are angry, very angry and it will take very little for things to get horrible."
The superintendent who heads the Met’s public disorder branch, David Hartshorn, said the usually quiet part of the class divide, one that had never before seen a demonstration as being likely to achieve what they wanted, could now join resurrected and revived protest groups from the 80s. Dormant activists, according to police sources, are back and armed with something previous generations of protesters lacked: communications sophistication in the shape of the internet, Twitter and text messages. If there is serious disorder in London this week, and on the scale the police expect, it will add to the unrest that has been felt all over Europe since the shock waves of the global downturn were first felt.
In Ireland last week it was taxi drivers and airport workers protesting at job cuts. There have been small demonstrations, lunchtime strikes and huge marches: 100,000 recently marched through Dublin over cutbacks made by the Irish government. In Hungary this month police used tear gas in Budapest to disperse anti-government protest.
In Greece, the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old resulted in the worst riots in a generation last December. Unions in Greece are now staging regular protests demanding the government address the impact on Greece’s poor of the downturn. There have been other demonstrations in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Poland and Bulgaria.
In France, three million people took to the streets two weeks ago as part of a second round of strikes and rallies, all attacking President Sarkozy’s handling of the crisis. More strikes and marches are expected this week.
Although the G20 summit talks will take place on Thursday only, the "Battle for London" is being seen by police as a wider campaign that will continue throughout this week. No-one of any high rank in the Met is talking officially of failure, but there is an undercurrent of operational concern that their ability to control protests everywhere will not be possible.
If the police do lose control of London, even for a brief time, their intelligence says this is what may happen: RBS’s London headquarters near Bishopsgate will be attacked; hotels and government buildings will come under attack in raids by anti-globalisation groups; London underground system will grind to a halt as passenger safety cannot be guaranteed; the capital’s traffic will be blocked with protesters lying in sleeping bags across key routes; "camps" inside the City will urge the public to vent anger against financiers and bank executives.
In addition, police fear a planned siege on the Bank of England; the dumping of hundreds of tonnes of sand on the City streets with groups encouraging children to stage "sandpit" protests; key routes into London, such as the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels along with the main Thames bridges, being blocked; bankers in the City being targeted, as firms advise personnel to "dress down" to avoid being identified, and marches heading in different directions hoping to divide the police’s power and split their resources.
Inside Scotland Yard, in one operations room, there have been computer projections of what the Met can expect this week. Commander Bob Broadhurst is said to refer to the combined protests as "Stop London".
From the perspective of one organiser of the protest, they are hoping for more than even Broadhurst’s worst fears. Police may be predicting "the worst public disorder in a decade", but an organiser of the protest group G20 Meltdown believes the G20 is "London’s chance to make the storming of the Bastille look like a school outing". G20 Meltdown is bringing together groups such as Stop the War Coalition, Class War and the Anarchists Federation. Greenpeace are mixed in, so too is Action Aid, Save the Children and War on Want.
Their protest on April 1, dubbed Financial Fools’ Day, has been named Storm the Banks, in an attempt to take the protest to the belly of the beast – a trial of capitalism where bankers will be "sent to the gallows".
Chris Knight, a professor at the University of East London was suspended from his post last week over his leadership of G20 Meltdown. The university claims his comments on "demanding a revolution" constituted incitement to violence, a claim Knight denies.
He will lead the "Four Horsefolk of the Apocalypse" on the Bank of England. Anarchy.net has a less subtle message: "F*** up the summit and other adventures" is their command for a full-scale protest on the ExCel centre on April 2. Class War’s instructions includes a depiction of Sir Fred Goodwin in a guillotine, with the headline "Ready to Riot".
A climate camp is planning to swoop on police lines from different directions; the hard-core assault protesters famous from other international gatherings, the Wombles, are said to have reformed especially for the G20. Anti-war activists are focusing their energies on the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square on the same day as the Meltdown protest.
A senior official at the London Chamber of Commerce said that, speaking to members in London last week, there were plenty of firms that would have preferred to simply "close up shop" for the week. And there were fears inside the Chamber that Chris Knight was correct when he said "the army and the police will be so intent on keeping the ExCel centre that they will lose the city of London. This is our time".
Yet alongside the provocative, the tasteless jokes on how to keep warm during the recession: burn a banker, nearly all the protest groups insist their G20 week is not about violence and that the police have overreacted and appear to be looking for confrontation.
Andrew Dismore, the Labour MP, said the police’s language over recent weeks had been "not very helpful". However, neither Sir Paul Stephenson, Bob Broadhurst nor David Hartshorn are answerable to Dismore.
Helpful or not, 5000 police officers in uniform and hundreds more undercover and among the protesters will be on battle alert this week. Yesterday’s peaceful protest will not mean any guards being lowered and the police snipers assigned to London’s roof tops can only hope that this start to the "summer of rage" goes down for what happens inside the ExCel centre rather than what happens outside it.
FIRST POSTED MARCH 25, 2009
Next week Gordon Brown plays host to the G20 Summit in the midst of the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. With the conference expected to draw the largest mass protests since the Iraq war, events outside the conference chambers have become the subject of official trepidation.
On Saturday, trade unionists, NGOs and Christian activists will march through London to call for fair trade and reform of the world financial system. On April 1, climate change campaigners intend to camp outside the European Climate Exchange in Bishopsgate, while a quasi-anarchist group calling itself G20 Meltdown plans to ‘reclaim the City’ with four ‘themed processions’ based on the Four Riders of the Apocalypse.
These protests are being talked up by the police and the media in equally apocalyptic terms. In January, Superintendent David Hartshorn of the Metropolitan Police’s public order branch predicted that the summit could ignite a British ‘summer of rage’ in response to the crisis. Hartshorn offered no evidence to support this claim, but such pre-publicity tends to generate expectations that can become self-fulfilling.
20,000 US troops are being redeployed from Iraq for ‘domestic emergencies’
It can also provide a justification for the kind of police overkill that was evident at previous high-profile summits at Seattle and Genoa. More than 3,000 police will be deployed for the G20, and history shows that such a large presence can be provocative. In recent years the police have shown an increasingly willingness to use excessive police force against protesters.
This week a 70-page report by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights criticised the heavy-handed police response to protests such as last year’s climate change camp at the Kingsnorth power station and 2007′s showdown at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, when riot police attacked peaceful protesters with baton charges, pepper spray and horses.
Such behaviour harks back to the worst years of the Thatcher era, but today’s police are bolstered by anti-terrorist legislation, with its blurring of the boundaries between protest and ‘terrorism.’ Nowadays anyone attending a demonstration can be filmed by police and the images stored on a criminal database. Under Section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act, filming or photographing police may constitute a criminal offence, if police decide that such images are "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".
Photography has traditionally provided a brake to police excesses and provided evidence when such excesses take place – and its potential criminalisation does not bode well, at a time when governments are becoming increasingly preoccupied by the spectre of "civil unrest". Last September the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute predicted that "widespread civil violence" might entail the use of "military force against hostile groups inside the United States".
The US Army has since announced that 20,000 soldiers will be redeployed from Iraq to assist the Department of Homeland Security to deal with domestic ‘emergencies’. These troops will be the first to be equipped with ‘non-lethal weapons’ including tasers and ‘bean-bag bullets’. Similar contingency plans are believed to exist in Canada and also in the UK, according to the Daily Express, which recently claimed that the MoD is prepared to use the army ‘as a last resort’ to deal with civil disorder.
All this raises disturbing questions about the way democratic governments propose to respond to the inevitable consequences of the ongoing economic collapse. Last winter IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn warned of worldwide violence "if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite."
There is little indication that the G20 leaders have either the will or the desire to do any such thing, but events may yet force their hand. Last week three million people demonstrated in France against the government’s handling of the crisis. Both the World Bank and the Economist Intelligence Unit have just issued equally dire warnings that a global ‘pandemic’ of civil unrest may topple governments across the world.
Whatever happens inside or outside the conference chamber next week, those who wish to avoid further ‘unrest’ would do well to listen to the voices from the street, and come up with something better than riot shields and police batons if they want to remain in power.