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Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
Quebec braces itself for protests
police fire tear gas at protestors in Seattle
Quebec is learning from experiences in Seattle in 1999

by BBC News Online's North America business reporter David Schepp

With the violent demonstrations against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle still vivid in many minds, organisers of the Quebec City Summit of the Americas conference have put security at the forefront.

When trade ministers meet later this month in Quebec City for the Trade Summit of the Americas, they will do so under tight security.

Officials from 34 countries are expected to be greeted by thousands of anti-globalisation protestors due in Quebec City next week.

Demonstrators object to an item at the top of the trade officials' agenda - the formation of a trade area that encompasses the entirety of the Western Hemisphere, from the frozen Arctic in the north to windswept Tier Del Fuego at the Americas southern tip.

Once completed in 2005, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), will be the largest free-trade area in the world and link nearly 800 million people - about 15% of the Earth's population - to goods and services estimated to be worth more than $11.4 trillion in 1999.

Trade zone fears

Opponents view the formation of a hemispherical trade zone as problematic.

They want assurances from member countries that the Earth's environment will be protected and workers will not be exploited.

Quebec's security measures
12 ft high concrete wall
3,000 mounted police
2,000 local police
Costing: 31m
Protestors have argued that they are not against trade but, rather, against unfair trade that would allow giant multinationals to crush small businesses.

But the distinction is often blurred during the heated exchanges seen in Seattle and other places.

That has led to the additional fortressing by conference officials, action which is seen as needed following the violence in Seattle in 1999 where protestors virulently battled with police at a World Trade Organisation conference there.

City on a cliff

Quebec City was settled by the French in the 17th century, partly due to its strategic position at the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Saint Charles rivers.

police remove anti-globalisation protestor in Seattle
Seattle police faced thousands of angry protestors
The city is dominated by a dramatic promontory that rises 320 feet above a narrowing in the St. Lawrence River, providing a natural fortress.

Quebec contains some of North America's oldest houses, churches and streets. The French used it in the early days as a fur-trading post and later developed it into a military, administrative and religious centre for its empire on the continent.

It is in this setting that leaders from the hemisphere's countries will gather in the hopes of securing free-trade deals.

As part of the measures for the Summit of the Americas, security forces have begun construction of a four-mile long 12-feet high concrete wall that will protect summit sites in the heart of historic Old Town Quebec.

Officials say that the fence will assist in keeping delegates safe as they enter and exit the meeting site.

Keeping the peace

Thousands of police officers will form a wall of their own to ensure safety and peace. More than 3,000 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police along with 2,000 Quebec provincial police and hundreds of local officers will greet up to 15,000 protestors.

But security does not come cheap, and the Canadian government expects to spend C$70m ($45m) to keep protestors from disrupting summit events.

Crowds have already showed up at pre-meeting demonstrations in Toronto and Ottawa, where police arrested 87 protestors amid peaceful demonstrations that featured chanting and waving banners.

But meeting organisers, having witnessed the violence in Seattle, are aiming to allow the dissenters have their voices heard too.

Quebec has made space in the lower town, more than a mile from the meeting, for protestors to gather and meet.

Meanwhile, many Canadians have begun questioning whether concrete walls and police barricades are not contrary to the values of tolerance and civility that Canada is well known for.

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