G8: 'We Will Block You' - At Least to a Moderate Degree
HWILIGENDAMM, Germany - It was billed as the day they would bring the eight most powerful nations to their knees by sitting in the road, but by 9am the idealists, anticapitalists and anarchists had already been forced to take a hike.
James Foley, 22, a student from Glasgow, had risen at 7.15am at the tent city in Rostock to join thousands of anti-G8 demonstrators marching on the luxurious Baltic spa resort of Heiligendamm where world leaders were gathering.
When their shuttle buses were stopped by police, Foley and thousands of his comrades decided to walk the 14 miles to the resort. Straggling lines of children, students, mothers and the occasional flag-waving granny waded waist deep through grey-green wheat like a medieval army, jumping ditches and passing under twirling windfarms.
By lunchtime, the demonstrators cheered news relayed by loud-hailer that 10,000 people had breached the restricted zone placed around the G8, blocked the main roads into the summit - in some cases by felling trees - and even halted in its tracks the miniature steam train shunting journalists from the press centre to the secure compound.
German police said eight officers had been injured in skirmishes when protesters twice broke through police lines to continue their march on Heiligendamm. Dozens of anti-G8 marchers reported burns and bruises from water cannon used to clear roads of peaceful protesters. The police claimed protesters threw stones but there was no repeat of the pitched battles that injured 1,000 people and embarrassed the authorities last weekend in Rostock.
This normally tranquil rural corner of Germany was filled with police dogs, horses, helicopters, armoured cars, unmarked vehicles and units of black and green-clad riot police racing to cut off the route to Heiligendamm.
After batons and teargas, the 16,000- strong German police discovered a more devilish weapon: the power of tedium. Protesters were corralled in small groups and painstakingly - and very slowly - searched.
"They stopped us for three hours and checked every bag, and they were doing it very slowly," said Janina Reivold, 22, from Heidelberg. "Now they are out to escalate the situation with water cannon." At every turn, police slowed down the marchers, who sang songs and even evoked the power of rock group Queen - chanting "We will, we will, block you" at riot squads as they sat down in country roads. When the protesters passed the 10-mile mark, armed riot police moved swiftly, jogging into a field and dividing the main march, before splitting them again into smaller groups.
While a few anarchists in black hoods and caps cut through barbed wire police had laid near the fence, most of the march became becalmed in the village of Borgerende, where they sat in the street in the sunshine surrounded by more than 100 police vans. Bemused locals took photographs. One pensioner offered the perspiring revolutionaries refills of water.
Many of the marchers felt the police tactics to stop them getting within shouting distance of George Bush and his peers infringed their freedom of assembly. "By sheer force of numbers our right to peaceful protest has been completely curtailed," said Foley.
By late afternoon, the majority of the marchers had conceded defeat in their attempt to stop G8 going ahead.
Some British protesters felt the German protest leaders had been too cautious and failed to organise the protests. "The organisers seem to be worried about being too German, being too organised and giving orders," said Marie from Manchester, who travelled to Germany on Ryanair with her 15-year-old daughter, Mia.
But most believed their march on Heiligendamm had scored some successes. At the modest end of the scale, the Japanese prime minister's wife was forced to cancel a walkabout in a nearby resort. The more important thing, protesters insisted, was that they were questioning the legitimacy of capitalist globalisation by our world leaders.
Brian Christopher, a student protester from Derry, said he had journeyed to Germany to point out it was "abhorrent that there are people who can meet to dictate the fate of the world when all the decisions they have taken have led to greater inequality and more wars.
"We have got the G8 on the run because they now have to have it in the middle of nowhere," he said. "The fact that they have to hide from their own citizens is a sad state of affairs."
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007