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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 12:36 GMT
Eyewitness: Not so Nice
firefighters extinguish a burning bank
A bank in the centre of the city was set on fire
By Tamsin Smith in Nice

The walk along the Promenade des Anglais to the Acropolis centre where the EU summit is being held is normally a pleasant one. But not today.

I expected a sea breeze, but suddenly found myself in a cloud of tear gas.

Crowds of chanting and masked demonstrators surging down side streets close to the conference centre were met by French riot police armed with batons and gas canisters.

Local residents rushed to board up windows and protect their property, while helicopters hovered overhead.

This is Seattle on the French Riviera.

Anti-capitalists

More than 50,000 protesters are demanding that Europe's leaders sit up and listen.

As the confusing array of banners, slogans and flags testifies, there is more than one type of protest here - anti-globalisation, Basque nationalists, trade unions and human rights.

As ministers arrived at the conference centre, the protesters were too close for comfort, waving slogans like "Europe is not for sale".

Anti-capitalists are furious with EU talk of lifting the veto on trade.

One woman, who identified herself as Amber, said: "Since Seattle the IMF and the EU are on the defensive and we are now on the offensive."

riot police outside the Acropolis
Riot police armed with gas canisters have been deployed
Demonstrators are also angry about the EU Charter of Rights, which EU ministers were due to sign as a political declaration.

A representative from a human rights organisation in Greece said he was disappointed that the EU would not "encourage higher standards of living and only offers a minimum level of rights."

Unlike the British, the European trade unionists are unhappy that the charter will not be made legally binding.

They say that although it is a step in the right direction towards providing social rights in Europe, it will have little impact if it is not part of the Treaty of Nice.

Right to strike

But the French presidency has made it clear that this will not happen at Nice.

Secretly perhaps, though, the French would like a more binding EU charter.

After all, this would be more in tune with the French social style and beliefs in social and workers' rights, such as the right to strike.

The trade unions in France still wield considerable power and some demonstrators are in Nice because French railways laid on a special service for them.

As the protesters show no signs of going home yet, it is clear that the citizens the EU hoped to inspire with promises of a social Europe are far from impressed.

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See also:

07 Dec 00 | Europe
Press gets Nice fever
07 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Major warns Blair over EU veto
06 Dec 00 | Europe
Schroeder plea for Nice accord
04 Dec 00 | Europe
France: Agenda too far removed?
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Row over 'secret EU superstate'
05 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Blair seeks 'flexible' Europe
05 Dec 00 | Talking Politics
Blair ready to hail EU victory
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