Hundreds of anti-globalization activists fought running battles with police in Geneva last night, as the G8 protests descended into violence for the third successive night.
Police used teargas and water cannon in an attempt to break up the groups of protesters - and the thousands of locals who swelled their numbers - as they clashed in the heart of the city.
Two protesters lie and sit in front of a row of Zurich riot police in Geneva, Switzerland, late Monday, June 2, 2003. Demonstrators have gathered in Lausanne and Geneva over the last few days to protest against the G8 summit taking place in nearby Evian, France, June 1 to June 3. (AP Photo/Keystone, Sandro Campardo)
The violence flared at the southern tip of Lake Geneva after a day of cat-and-mouse standoffs between police and protesters.
A series of spontaneous demonstrations in the early evening were blocked by riot police who pushed the separate group of activists back together on the edge of the main bridge over the lake
With reinforcements standing by in scores of vehicles parked on side streets, hundreds of officers, including some drafted in from Germany - blocked all the approaches to seal the demonstrators in.
But while this took the main contingent out of action, the trouble flared after a crowd of about 500 gathered on the police's eastern flank on the Rue de Mont Blanc.
As darkness fell, small bands of anarchist "ultras" moved in and began throwing fence posts, sticks and bottles at the police.
The police responded at first with water cannon and a series of baton charges, firing plastic pellets into the air, but this only succeeded in widening the demonstration as the crowd ran off into side streets. By that time hundreds more protesters had moved in and at around 11.30pm began throwing fireworks and petrol bombs at the police.
By 12.20am local time, convoys of police riot vehicles were chasing pockets of protesters across the city center. In their wake , they left burnt-out rubbish skips and scorched roads strewn with thousands of rocks, bottles and other missiles.
The vast majority of the tens of thousands of protesters who turned up for Sunday's main anti-G8 rally have already left their camps on both sides of the Franco-Swiss border.
But with groups of anarchist "ultras" still in Geneva, police took the tactical decision to put on a high-profile show of force at every gathering - provoking renewed allegations from the protesters that they were seeking confrontation.
"It is a totally pointless confrontation," said Nick, an activist from Brighton. "All we wanted to do was have a march and they have completely overreacted."
These incidents are unlikely to do much to improve the battered reputation of the Geneva police who are facing accusations from residents and protest groups about their handling of the situation.
Local businesses say the police failed to intervene before millions of francs worth of damage had been done.
Yesterday along the city's main shopping streets, any business which had not already boarded up its windows as a preventative measure was confronted with a shattered shopfront.
One local newspaper, Le Temps, said the policing had been incompetent.
Meanwhile, the protesters were distancing themselves from the violence and accused the police of being heavy-handed. "We have to question their actions," said Alessandro Pelizzari, one of the main local organizers."They are using indiscriminate force against peaceful protesters and attempting to criminalize the whole movement."
The violence has also made life uncomfortable within the protest movement, opening up deep tactical and philosophical divisions.
While the moderate majority was attempting yesterday to completely dissociate the main protests from the activities of the "ultras", others were unwilling to condemn them outright.
"I don't believe that it is a very effective way of getting the point across," said Chris Nineham, an activist with Globalize Resistance. "But I can understand why some people would attack the symbols of capitalist power."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003