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Thousands protest G-8 summit this week

By Ivan Watson, CNN
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Protesters to G8: Get lost
  • Large demonstration mostly peaceful
  • Anti-globalization activists call for inclusion of women's issues, among others
  • No support heard for ex-IMF head Strauss-Kahn

Le Havre, France (CNN) -- Several thousand demonstrators marched through this industrial port city in a mostly peaceful protest against an upcoming summit of the world's group of eight wealthiest countries.

Activists from an eclectic mix of labor unions, leftist political parties, and environmentalist and women's rights groups participated in the march through Le Havre's mostly deserted streets, under the slogan "G-8 Degage."

Degage means "get lost." It was also a rallying cry for the revolution in Tunisia last January that toppled Western-backed dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

The protest is being held days ahead of the summit. On Wednesday, leaders from the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, Canada and Russia will converge in the coastal resort of Deauville, more than 20 miles away from Le Havre.

"No, of course they are not welcome here," said Baptiste Simon, who held a sign denouncing government cutbacks in social services. "If it was the G-182, like all of the countries of the United Nations, then they would be welcome here."

"Deauville is the capital of the grand bourgeoisie in France," said union activist Philippe Saunier, referring to Deauville's reputation as an exclusive playground for the French aristocracy. "It is a symbol of the bourgeoisie."

"We are part of the protest here because we feel that with all the issues that are being discussed here, whether it be trade or the crisis, it's always that women are left behind, voices of women are never heard," said Wilhelmina Trout, a South African activist with the group World March of Women.

After marching peacefully for several hours, several younger, black-clad members of the protest began smashing shop windows and spray-painting anarchy signs on store fronts, sending several city residents running in panic down a side street.

A half dozen plain-clothes police officers who had infiltrated the march tried to detain one of the suspected vandals. The young man resisted, prompting other anarchists to come to his rescue. They hurled stones at the undercover police officers and chased them as they fled the scene. For the moment, the suspect escaped arrest.

Moments later, the anarchists clashed with fellow anti-G8 protesters. They threw paint and oil at security volunteers from one of the largest labor unions organizing the protest when they were barred from entering the main grounds where a concert was to be held.

Large international summits and meetings of the world's largest financial institutions are regular targets of anti-globalization demonstrators, whose radical fringes often engage in vandalism and clashes with police.

"We are clearly against violence," said Saunier, who was a member of the protest's volunteer security force. "But there are always some provocateurs."

Though the demonstrators were clearly from the left wing of the political spectrum, there was little to no mention of the disgraced former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Up until his arrest in New York last Saturday, Strauss-Kahn was widely considered to be the French Socialist Party's best hope for wresting the presidency away from Nicholas Sarkozy in next year's presidential election.

Saturday's anti-G8 protesters had little positive to say about Strauss-Kahn.

"He's not a good candidate of the left," said Saunier, the labor activist. "He is a member of the grand bourgeoisie," he added, referring to Strauss-Kahn's vast wealth, and his residences in Paris, Washington and Morocco, which are widely reported to be worth millions of dollars.