G8 Protesters In Stand-Off With Police

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Agence France Presse

G8 Protesters In Stand-Off With Police

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DATE, Japan - Protesters and police engaged in a tense stand-off on Monday as Japanese authorities blocked demonstrators from nearing a summit of the world's most powerful leaders at a secluded mountain resort.0707 03 1

Around 50 anti-globalisation protesters, mostly from abroad, marched towards the Group of Eight leaders' luxury hilltop hotel but before they could come close they were stopped by more than 100 anti-riot police with 20 vans.

"This isn't what democracy looks like," one of the protesters howled at the police, who stood guard with shields under pouring rain.

A police negotiator replied to them: "Go back. I'm warning you that you will be arrested."

After a 30-minute stand-off in the town of Toyoura, the protesters, some covered with hoods and scarves, retreated to their remote campsite.

"In Japan the right to demonstrate is very strongly repressed," a Spanish activist said. "It's not only this time, but there's a permanent lack of access for Japanese citizens to express their ideas in any way that is difficult."

Thousands of demonstrators chanted slogans Saturday in Hokkaido's largest city of Sapporo, with police arresting three demonstrators and one journalist, but no protesters have been able to get near the isolated summit venue.

The closest demonstrators got was the edge of Lake Toya, some 10 kilometres (six miles) in diameter, where they shouted slogans in the vain hope that the leaders on the other side could hear them.

Activists ranging from German punk rockers to Japanese indigenous activists are camping here some 30 kilometres (18 miles) away from Toyako, where the G8 industrial powers were holding annual talks.

Japanese authorities agreed to let activists stay for free at far-removed campsites in a bid to make up for a hotel shortage and keep better control over protesters to prevent any violence.

Colourful flags and banners reading "No G8!" fluttered from tents on the crowded campsite as a few dozen local farmers watched.

Organisers of the campsite put up signs offering to buy vegetables from local farmers and asking them to join the movement.

While many of the protesters are foreigners, they also include Ainu -- the indigenous people here on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.

Kenichi Kawamura, whose Ainu name is Shinrit e=oripak Aynu, performed a traditional ritual to pray to the gods for successful demonstrations against the Group of Eight summit.

"The G8 are coming to our land to do whatever they please. Please protect us," said the 57-year-old, wearing an Ainu gown and a headband during the ritual, which was carried out in his indigenous language.

The Ainu were displaced when settlers from Japan's main island of Honshu settled Hokkaido in the 19th century. They still lag behind in education and income in the Asian economic power.

A group of German punk rockers lying down on the lawn at the campsite remembers that last year's protests were very different.

Militant activists threw Molotov cocktails and stones during demonstrations at the summit in Germany that drew tens of thousands of protesters from around the world.

"Demonstrations here are smaller than the German protests we saw last year," said Posti, the drummer of punk band Sprengsatz who goes by one name.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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