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More Than 300,000 Protest Against EU Summit

16 March 2002

More than 300,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Barcelona in one of the biggest demonstrations ever to coincide with a summit of European Union leaders.

Some 50 people were seen being detained as riot police fired tear gas at the end of the protest to disperse small gangs of anarchists who smashed bank windows with metal bars along the route of the early-evening march.

Several dozen people were slightly injured in the melee, including at least three press photographers.

But the bulk of the protest was orderly, in sharp contrast to the violence that has rocked past EU summits - particularly in Gothenburg, Sweden last June when the city center was ravaged and a demonstrator shot and wounded.

Marching behind a banner that declared: "Against a Europe of capital - another world is possible," the boisterous demonstrators trooped for almost three hours from Placa de Catalunya to the Mediterranean harborfront.

They represented a host of causes - many of them opponents of free-market globalization, but also large numbers of Catalan and Basque nationalists - as they moved forth under a forest of banners and flags.

Organizers estimated the crowd at 300,000 to 500,000 while municipal police said at least 150,000 had massed in the streets.

Shops along the two-kilometer (one-mile) route drew their shutters though some department stores and cafes opted to stay open, their doors guarded by police. Two police helicopters hovered noisily overhead.

Organizers, cheered by a week of largely trouble-free protests, had been hoping for 100,000 participants, even with a big soccer match between Barcelona and Real Madrid elsewhere in the city.

That match was interrupted by three protesters, two of whom managed to scramble onto the pitch and chain themselves to one of the goals.

Fans threw objects at them during the seven-minute delay, and all three were arrested.

About 100,000 people turned out Thursday for a boisterous but disciplined march along much the same route, organized by the mainstream European Trade Union Confederation.

On Friday, as the two-day summit of EU heads of state and government got under way at a heavily guarded convention center, 24 people were detained in skirmishes with baton-wielding police in various parts of the city.

"In terms of participation and reach of our message, the activities of the day by far exceeded our targets," said the Campaign Against the Europe of Capital, a coalition of 150-odd groups that has been coordinating protests.

Jose Bove, the mustachioed French activist best known for leading an assault on a McDonald's fast-food outlet in southwest France in August 1999, was in the city for the march.

"Europe's leaders are implementing policies and directives that only serve the interests of liberalization and attack the rights of workers," Bove told AFP earlier in the day.

Security was tight throughout the summit with 8,500 police officers - many bused in from other parts of Spain - in the bustling Catalan capital to guard against the double threat of street riots and Basque terrorist attacks.

Several hundred people also demonstrated Saturday in the streets of the French town of Perpignan, close to the Spanish border, and planned to join the protesters in Barcelona.

But for a third straight day, Spanish police at the border with France turned back cars and buses with people whom they suspected were planning to join Saturday's march.

"Some people think that they can do things that do not meet the approval of the vast majority of the population," said Spanish Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy. "Action had to be taken."

The EU leaders met at a convention center on the suburban northwest side of the city, surrounded by police armored cars and chain-link fences. Most if not all were expected to have left the city before Saturday's late-day march.

The last big antiglobalization protest in Barcelona, in June last year during a World Bank meeting, led to violent clashes on the streets and a political debate in Spain over police brutality at demonstrations.

Published by Agence France Presse
© 2002 AFP

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