Violence Explodes At Summit Of The Americas
From Kev Loughlin - Summit of the Americas 2001 - Quebec City Canada:
Saturday 21 April 2001. - 12.30pm
Brilliant sunshine and clear skies bathe Quebec City this morning as the 34 Heads of State meet in the opening session of the 2001 Summit of the Americas. Inside the 10 square kilometre security perimeter, Police and officials reflect on yesterday's street violence in which four Black Bloc anarchists were arrested.
Squadrons of riot police whose intimidating appearance and stature look similar to ancient Roman Legionaires, and Star Wars participants, repeatedly fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the demonstrators as they gathered at key flash points along the steel chain-linked fence, erected to protect the Heads of State and officials.
The buildup to the violence began when militant protestors broke through the three metre high fence or ['wall of shame'] and confronted the riot police in a successful bid to disrupt the opening ceremony. The opening was duly delayed by over an hour.
They threw burning rolls of toilet paper, concrete blocks, stones, hockey pucks, cans and balloons filled with paint, forcing riot police to use their shields to protect themselves. Throughout these incidents the Summit Leaders including US President George W Bush, were in residence less than 800 metres away.
The violence began when some 5,000 demonstrators gathered along the edge of the fence where four traffic lanes cross at the corner of Boulevard Rene Levescue and Ru del l'Amerique Francaise. Within minutes a group of hard core anarchists had broken down a portion of the four kilometre long fence that had been erected in this sector of the city a few days before. This led the line of riot police to use tear gas and dogs on leashes to herd them out. Coachloads of riot police squadrons then quickly moved into position ready for action on the frontline.
An anticipated 25,000 demonstrators are assembling in the streets of Quebec City this afternoon to protest plans by 34 Heads of State to create a free trade area in the Americas extending from Alaska to Patagonia by the end of year 2005. More than 6,000 police have already been mobilised in expectation of any trouble.
There are 3,000 media personnel covering the Summit and scores of international media, Canadian and US journalists were forced to remain outside the security perimeter for about six hours. as a result of the decision by security authorities to close all strategic entrances to the security zone. I was among those affected.
Four members of the Black Bloc were arrested during the protests. The standoff between police and demonstrators at several locations continued into the early evening. Scores of tear gas shells were fired by riot police throughout the violence. The prevailing winds rapidly carried the gas to areas away from the demonstrations and this resulted in many people being affected by stinging side affects of the gas.
At the height of the violence the doors, entrances, and air conditioning into the Conference Centre were all cut off to stop the tear gas entering the sectors where the Heads of State were due to attend the opening ceremony. Scores of media personnel were also left outside the Media Centre too, and many were banging at the doors pleading to be let inside, but the pleas went unheeded. Many journalists were affected by the impact of the gas and some required medical assistance.
Police used tear gas again late last night during which time they arrested 28 people while five officers were injured in clashes at and nearby the security fence. While media were free to make their own way back to their hotels, the fumes from the existing gas again forced many in the Media Centre to remain in the complex. It was almost 3.00am this morning before I and many other journalists were able to return to our hotels.
As the second day of the Summit of the Americas 2001 begins in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, water cannons are already in use by police as they prepare to stop the prospect of similar violence carried out by extreme protestors yesterday.