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Tuesday, 24 July, 2001, 21:57 GMT 22:57 UK
Who won the Genoa battle?
Genoa protests
Summits involving rich nations and other organisations have become a battleground
By the BBC's Mike Williams

Genoa has been blessed by geography but damned by geopolitics.

The city spreads itself across steep hillsides, which run down into the Mediterranean - it has beauty and history.

But after this last weekend, it will be remembered by many for violent protests, draconian security, death and diplomacy.

Weapons confiscated from protesters
Violence was inevitable given the build up of forces on either side
Much of the business of the summit went unheard, after two gunshots rang out, killing a young Italian demonstrator.

These summits of the rich and powerful nations and other organisations have become a battleground.

Inside a cordon of concrete and steel and police officers, the diplomacy is almost drowned out by the sound of chanting protesters, and exploding teargas grenades.

So who won the battle?

Given that the sound of fury dominated Genoa, it is difficult to argue that the politicians did.

Protesters unhappy

Yet the vast majority of the protesters went away unhappy too.

They fall into three distinct camps. First, those who are unwilling to break any law or use any physical violence to make their point.

Like the politicians, they too were largely unheard.

Second, those who claim a heritage from Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and engage in peaceful civil disobedience.

Poster of Carlo Giuliani
The death of an activist overshadowed the talks

They made some noise, and some broke the law. They have made some progress over the years. Largely because of their campaigning, issues like debt-relief to poor nations has made it onto the agenda at Genoa.

But in the end, their voices too were drowned out by the final group of protesters - those willing to fight.

The Italian police were nervous after receiving many threats against the leaders gathered in Genoa, and they reacted rapidly and with overwhelming force when the protesters who favoured direct action tried to pull down the barriers erected throughout the city.

Escalation in violence

It was like a medieval battle. The clashes seemed almost choreographed and were inevitable, given the build up of forces on both sides.

Politics has always been accompanied by protest, but there has been an escalation in recent years. The G7 summits (and after the admission of Russia, the G8), have become such a focus for protest that the security around them has grown incredibly.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Jean Chretien said the Canadian summit will be different

That goes for other groups too, like the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Security is tightened, more protesters come. Security is tightened again, yet more people join the crowds.

The Canadians, who are due to host the next G8 summit, have decided that this cycle must be broken.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, told me that the summits had got out of control, with some countries bringing up to 900 official delegates.

Delegations limited

Mr Chretien has told the other leaders that next year, no more than 35 delegates will be accepted at the gathering.

But he accepted that people do have the right to demonstrate, and in fact welcomed it as part of the democratic process, pointing out that he too had organised political protest as a student.

He absolutely rejected violence as a political tool, yet made one startling admission - the growing protests had helped force issues like debt, Aids and the environment onto the G8 agenda.

The summits must now change if they are not going to be a repetition of Genoa. Given the ferocity of the protests and policing this year, further escalation is a frightening prospect.

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See also:

22 Jul 01 | Europe
Genoa counts the cost
22 Jul 01 | Europe
Summits must continue - Blair
22 Jul 01 | Europe
Eyewitness: Genoa police raid
21 Jul 01 | Europe
Protest death divides Genoese
21 Jul 01 | Media reports
Newspapers lament Genoa violence
22 Jul 01 | Europe
Dismay at Genoa's troubles
22 Jul 01 | Business
G8 extols globalisation
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