Protests delay start of Americas summit
QUEBEC CITY, Canada (CNN) -- Anti-globalization protesters clashing with police delayed the beginning of the Summit of the Americas on Friday for one hour.
The third Summit of the Americas opened Friday night after Canadian riot police battled for hours to keep anti-globalism protesters away, using tear gas and, eventually, rubber bullets.
The violence delayed opening ceremonies in the historic French-Canadian provincial capital for more than an hour. Thirty people were arrested and five officers were injured in the clashes.
Leaders of 34 countries from the Western Hemisphere are gathered for the three-day summit meeting to discuss free trade, including a movement toward establishment of a hemisphere-wide free trade zone across the Americas.
It is the first international summit for U.S. President George W. Bush, who promised while leaving the White House to create a Western Hemisphere that is both "prosperous and free."
Rocks, rubber bullets and a flower
But protesters, who vehemently oppose a free trade agreement because they believe it would benefit only multinational corporations, gathered several hours before the summit was to begin and took over several streets and tore down part of a concrete and chain-link fence police had erected as a security perimeter.
Riot police with helmets, batons and shields responded immediately and stood shoulder-to-shoulder to form a human fence.
Demonstrators lobbed rocks, bottles and parts of the fence at the officers. Police pushed them back with tear gas and rubber bullets.
There were sporadic battles between demonstrators and police wielding nightsticks amid the cream-colored clouds of gas.
Some demonstrators wore gas masks to protect themselves from police tear gas and occasionally tossed tear gas canisters back toward police lines. At one point, part of the police line slowly edged forward about a block, pushing protesters back.
One young woman walked along a police line, offering a large flower to officers. None accepted.
Kevin Danaher, a non-violent protester with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group, said the clashes were "unfortunate."
"People start talking about the pyrotechnics and not what's going on," he said of the globalization.
Police using 'measured approach'
Agent Gilles Mitchell with the Quebec Provincial Police said some protesters were affected during the afternoon by exposure to the tear gas. He did not know how many people were injured but said the injuries reported were all minor. He also said there was some property damage, such as windows being broken and vehicles vandalized, including one television truck.
Police said their response is based on the protesters' actions.
"We believe in a measured approach in terms of how police intervene in these types of situations," said Sgt. Mike Gaudet, with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "We have full intentions of allowing the democratic right of people to demonstrate, but if personal behavior becomes violent, the police will respond according to how the crowd behaves."
The convention center where the summit was taking place, as well as the hotels where many of the leaders of the 34 participating countries are staying, are inside the perimeter, away from the protesters.
Authorities brought in 6,000 police officers from across Canada because of violence at the 1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, Washington. They said were 4,000 to 5,000 protesters in the city Friday and estimate as much as 25,000 to 30,000 could arrive by Saturday.
On Wednesday, Canadian police rounded up seven people who allegedly planned to disrupt the summit with smoke bombs, grenades and what police termed "frightening equipment."
Protesters also prepared for violence in Quebec City, bringing their own gas masks, helmets and padded clothing for protection.
"Free trade means open markets, which means power goes to the powerful and not to the people," protester Michael Sacco told The Associated Press. The 25-year-old student from Toronto wore a Canadian flag like a cape.
Sacco said he had hoped free traders would have gotten that message in Seattle, where 50,000 protesters interrupted the WTO meeting. Gangs of anarchists smashed windows and vandalized cars, and police battled the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Other topics on agenda
This is the third gathering of American leaders. Previous summits were held in Miami in 1994 and Santiago, Chile, in 1998. Cuba is the only regional nation excluded from the summit because its Communist regime is not seen as sufficiently democratic by the other countries.
Earlier Friday, Bush met with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, then with leaders from South American countries -- except for those of Bolivia and Brazil, who were unable to attend because of security concerns - then with leaders from all but five Caribbean countries, and then with leaders from Central American countries.
Free trade, including a movement toward establishment of a hemisphere-wide free trade zone across the Americas, is high on the summit's agenda. Leaders will also discuss ways to improve access to education, alleviate poverty, strengthen human rights and democracy and integrate their economies. Bush said he also will raise the issue of illegal drug trafficking.
The U.S. president has pledged to create a free trade zone of nations in North and South America by 2005.
"This will make our hemisphere the largest free trade area in the world, encompassing 34 countries and 800 million people," Bush said before leaving the White House for the summit.
"We already know from the North American Free Trade Agreement that free trade works. Since 1994, total trade among Canada, Mexico and the United States has more than doubled. NAFTA has created more choices at lower prices for consumers in all three of our nations, and it has created good jobs for our workers," the U.S. leader said.
While Bush supports the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would lift trade barriers from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, the FTAA faces opposition not only from the protesters but from more directly influential sources as well.
Some of that opposition comes from the U.S. Congress -- which must give Bush approval if he is to negotiate a trade agreement -- and business leaders in other countries who don't want to be in direct competition with U.S. companies.
CNN Correspondents Lucia Newman and John King contributed to this report.
Police seal off Quebec City for summit
Summit of the Americas
|Back to the top|