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James Hart, City of London police
"We have had no contact from any of the demonstrators"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 November, 1999, 13:36 GMT
Online activists plan global protest
riot The J18 riots took police by surprise

History might have been very different if Karl Marx had been able to send e-mails.

The idea of organising thousands of protesters across the globe would have been fanciful.

But the ability to do it anonymously and beyond the reach of the conventional media has led to a new breed of protester.

The extent of the internet's power as an activist's tool may well be seen on Tuesday - N30 day in demo speak. That is the day when protesters are planning to target the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle.

damage Damage was estimated at 2m
It could mark the largest example yet of what is being termed "transnational activism".

A web-organised protest could snarl up Seattle with internet sites urging activists to take part in a programme of rallies, walk-outs and civil disobedience.

The police in London fear a rerun of the violence that hit the City during the "carnival against capitalism" on 18 June - dubbed J18 - when hordes of anti-capitalist protesters ran amok.

And there are new threats of "cyber-attacks" - hacking into big business's computers - although these did not materialise on J18.

Police complain that no-one has officially told them about the protests.

James Hart, assistant commissioner of the City of London Police, said: "We have a fairly extensive police operation organised, but as with June 18 we don't have a single organisation that has notified us of their intention to demonstrate.

"In fact we have had no contact at all from any of the demonstrators which makes it extremely difficult of course for us to plan any response to their peaceful protest that they claim they will undertake.

We have this loose coalition of protest groups which may or may not turn up at different locations
James Hart, assistant commissioner of the City of London Police
But the key point for N30 organisers is that the internet enables an enormous number of demonstrators to gather at the same time, all over the world.

Like previous demos, organisers are doing their best to throw police off the scent.

Some websites flag up N30 with times and places to gather, while Reclaim the Streets - which was behind the J18 demo - says only on its website: "Seattle? London? Who knows? 30 November? 31 December? January? They may say that, we couldn't possibly comment."

But while much has been made of the importance of websites in disseminating information about protests - and it's clear that websites played a crucial role in J18 - activists say it's now e-mail and even bleepers which have revolutionised the business of revolution.

Geri, of Brighton-based environmental action e-zine SchNEWS said: "Websites are open to everyone, and that includes police, but e-mails are more private."

People are using encrypted e-mail
Geri, of SchNEWS e-zine
N30 organisers in the States are more willing to deal with the authorities and are generally more open about their activities.

But it appears that police in London will be relying on strength of numbers.

Mr Hart said: "We have certainly looked towards our deployment and hopefully the operation on Tuesday will - albeit significant - be very reassuring to Londoners."

Police are also hoping the cold weather will help prevent a re-run of J18.

While protesters have harnessed the power of the internet for their own ends, police have also started fighting fire with fire.

In what appeared to be a calculated snub to the protesters, City of London police paraded pictures of suspects after the J18 protest - on its website.

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See also:
29 Oct 99 |  UK
Three sentenced over City riot
19 Jun 99 |  UK
Police probe 'planned violence' in City riot
18 Jun 99 |  The Economy
Debt activists target City
28 Jul 99 |  UK
Police to admit riot failings
21 Oct 99 |  UK
Internet search for City rioters

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