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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Barcelona braced for summit protests
Riot police vans at Barcelona airport
Thousands of police are on duty
test hello test
By Simon Fraser
BBC News Online
line

Police in Barcelona are standing by for the arrival of tens of thousands of anti-globalisation protesters who are expected for a European Union summit later this week.

The meeting of heads of state and government on Friday and Saturday will discuss economic and social reforms as well as anti-terrorism measures.


The Spanish police are notorious for using agents provocateurs

Guy Taylor,
Globalise Resistance
But among locals, all the pre-summit talk is about the threat of disruption and the chaos into which the city is being plunged.

If large-scale trouble erupts it will be the first at such an event since the Genoa summit last July, when rioting left parts of the city resembling a war zone, and a protester was killed by police.

Since then, summits then have either been called off or have been subdued affairs following the 11 September attacks on the US.

Demonstrator with flames and flag
Genoa saw some of Europe's worst riots
Spain's security forces are taking no chances, however.

More than 8,500 officers will be on duty in the Catalan capital, nearly a third of them drafted in from other parts of the country, say police.

Riot police will be armed with live and plastic ammunition and tear gas.

In addition, 2,000 civil guards are patrolling Barcelona's airport and railway and bus terminals, as well as the border with France.

Border controls

Some reports say suspected protesters have already been turned back at the border - the first time passports have been checked there since the Schengen Agreement came into force.

According to Eva Millet, a local journalist, the heightened security in Barcelona was much in evidence at the weekend when thousands turned out for marches unrelated to the summit agenda.


We expect to have a little more congestion in other parts of Barcelona

Julio Garcia,
transport spokesman
The city felt like it was under siege, she told BBC News Online.

Steel barriers and barbed wire have gone up, cordoning off the summit venue and hotels where delegates will be staying.

Helicopters and mounted police are patrolling the restricted zone around the conference centre in the Avenida Diagonal and the Catalonia Palace of Congresses.

It has been searched for explosives by sniffer dogs because the authorities also fear an attack by the Basque separatist group ETA.

But protesters represent their main concern.

A glance at the websites of groups who were in Genoa shows that many plan to make their presence felt in Barcelona, listing it among their "mobilisations".

Protesters' fears

One group, Globalise Resistance, is organising transport from the United Kingdom. Spokesman Guy Taylor told BBC News Online that the build-up to the summit had been "quite incredible".

Barcelona Juan Carlos 1 hotel  where heads of state will stay
The summit venue and hotels are closed off
He expected a big turnout, but said he was worried the authorities might over-react, as they had done in Genoa.

"The Spanish police are notorious for using agents provocateurs."

They were "entirely capable" of being as heavy-handed as their Italian counterparts, he said.

A big demonstration against the World Bank in Barcelona last June was dramatically ended by riot officers firing rubber bullets and teargas, amid claims that police tactics were heavy-handed and indiscriminate.

Police surveillance of anti-globalisation groups has been stepped up - even monitoring their emails, according to the Izquierda Unida (IU), the main far left-wing Spanish party.

The two main groups organising protests on the sidelines of the summit are the Barcelona Social Forum, which groups local activists and trade unions, and the Campaign Against Capitalist Europe and War.

Those the authorities least want in Barcelona are the so-called "black bloc", which comprises several loosely-organised anarchist and radical groups.

Unlike most of the protesters, who demonstrate peacefully, black bloc members have used violence to make their point and were at the centre of the Genoa disturbances.

Traffic problems

But it is the disturbance to their daily routines which is affecting Barcelona's residents most.

Police check drains
Police check the sewers for bombs
An area one square mile in size around the summit venue has been closed off, with a nearby university shut down for the duration of the meeting.

Julio Garcia, a transport spokesman at Barcelona's city hall, said a stretch of the main Barcelona-Madrid road, which carries 140,000 cars a day, would be closed to private vehicles from Thursday to Saturday.

Two metro stations near the conference centre would also be shut.

"We expect to have a little more congestion in other parts of Barcelona," he told BBC News Online.

But he said the city had gained plenty of experience of dealing with large numbers of people and traffic problems, having hosted the Olympic Games a decade ago.

See also:

13 Jul 01 | Europe
Flashback to summit flashpoints
21 Jul 01 | Europe
Who are the Genoa protesters?
15 Jun 01 | Europe
Gothenburgers count the cost
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