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Clashes at EU economic summit

Several protests have been arrested in Salzburg
Several protests have been arrested in Salzburg  


SALZBURG, Austria -- Anti-globalisation protesters have clashed with riot police as an ecomonic summit began in Austria.

Hundreds of activists tried to break through walls of police as they marched on the meeting hall in Salzburg where convention organisers opened the European Economic Summit on Sunday.

At one point, they pelted police with bottles and sticks causing officers to charge the crowd, the Associated Press reported.

The authorities had earlier sealed off the convention hall with rings of barricades that turned this ancient alpine tourist destination into a fortified maze of checkpoints.

The activists chanted: "Our world is not for sale, put the bankers into jail!"

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Sunday's clashes injured at least two protesters and one police officer.

The unrest came after similar disturbances at the EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, last month and at anti-World Bank rally last weekend in Barcelona, Spain.

Police spokeswoman Sonja Fiegel said 11 activists were arrested for disorderly conduct.

Despite the scuffles, it was business as usual inside the convention hall.

The event, hosted by the World Economic Forum and chaired by billionaire financier George Soros, will run until Tuesday.

Top of the agenda on Sunday was the issue of EU enlargement.

Nearly all panelists, mostly from central and eastern Europe, applauded the breakthrough agreement in Sweden, when the EU agreed to admit new members from the formerly communist east by 2004.

"Nobody questioned the idea of enlargement," said Guenter Verheugen, a European commissioner.

"For the 15 member states, it's strategic objective Number One. For candidate countries, it's a light at the end of the tunnel."

Representatives from candidate countries remained upbeat that their membership bids would not be delayed by a June 7 Irish vote rejecting the treaty that prepares the way for expansion.

"We shouldn't exaggerate this referendum," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said.

"We have to show them that their interests are protected and that enlargement is good for all of Europe."

During the opening meeting Eastern European leaders urged the EU not to exclude the Balkans and the former Soviet Union from future membership of the bloc.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said EU membership would help transform the Balkans from a historic "region of disintegration" into one of integration.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said there was now an opportunity to look beyond the traditional concept of Europe and this meant eventual EU membership for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus should not be ruled out.

"Enlargement must not stop at the Balkans but must include the Balkans," Reuters reported Djindjic as saying.

"Historically we are a region of disintegration. EU enlargement could reverse this process and lead to integration so we no longer think so much only in terms of nation states."

Kwasniewski, whose country is a front runner for EU membership in the next few years, said Poland's eastern neighbours should not be left out.

It could take Ukraine one to two decades to prepare for EU enlargement "but we should work for such a scenario," Kwasniewski said.

He added: "The same for Belarus. I know that today with President (Aleksander) Lukashenko it is very difficult to see Belarus as a European country or a country accepting European rules.

"But nobody is immortal. We will see what happens in the next decades."

Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Estonia are expected to be the first to join the European Union.

Slovakia, Malta, Latvia and Lithuania -- which started talks later -- hope to join later.





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