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THE WORLD | COLUMN ONE : RUN-UP TO A SUMMIT

Genoa on Minds of Protesters

Activists in a populist movement that besieged Seattle in 1999 are mobilizing Europeans against globalization at this week's G-8 summit.

July 18, 2001|RICHARD BOUDREAUX and MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

GENOA, Italy — Judging from magazine covers, Luca Casarini's outfit is all the rage in Italy this summer--white overalls, plexiglass shield and a helmet over his long, disheveled hair.

It's more than a fashion statement. The White Overalls is a militant leftist band whose activists, led by the burly 34-year-old, are coming here to disrupt this week's summit of the Group of 8 industrialized nations.

Sister Patrizia Pasini, 60, is more subdued in her style but not in her politics. The Italian missionary is leading a group of Roman Catholic activists, she says, "to fight the G-8 with prayers and hunger strikes" on the soon-to-be-embattled streets of Genoa.

The nun and the hell-raiser are unlikely allies in a populist movement that accuses the world's richest governments of neglecting the poor and harming the environment. Since wrecking the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the network has spread from America to nearly every corner of Europe, growing in size and sophistication while besieging one international summit after another.

The swarming of Genoa, starting Thursday, could be the movement's biggest show so far. Italian organizers, who struggled to unite pacifists and street fighters under a single set of rules, say 1,170 groups with labor, environmental and humanitarian agendas have signed up for Genoa and could deliver as many as 100,000 protesters from across the continent.

"It's an enormous range," said Jonathan Neale, a U.S. veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement who is working with the Genoa-based organizers. "It's people who before this started really didn't think they could agree."

From London to Athens, an unusual number of activists has assumed specialized but loosely coordinated tasks in mobilizing Europe's citizens to rant against President Bush and their own leaders, rethink the continent's march toward standardization, defy the cops and party for days on end.

The summit-hopping movement for global justice is largely a Western phenomenon. In Europe, it embraces Greenpeace environmentalists, Greek trade unions, Basque separatists, German punkers, faith-based groups such as Christian Aid and more. It backs mandatory curbs on "greenhouse gas" emissions, debt relief for poor countries and cheaper drugs to help them fight AIDS.

The call to Genoa has multiplied over the Internet, drawing a network of idealists who use global tools to rail against globalization--or at least demand a fairer distribution of its benefits.

"It's all about how we're being mass-produced, all becoming little Americans--talking, eating, wearing the same things," said Maria Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old piano teacher from Athens who has no students over the summer and feels lured to Genoa because "it is supposed to be the biggest thing since [the European student protests of] 1968."

The movement has gained momentum in Europe as its key demands win public acceptance and as leaders of the G-8--the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia--make limited concessions on debt and AIDS relief.

Pope John Paul II has urged the leaders to "listen to the cry of the poor" and lead the process of globalization "for the common good of the whole world, on the basis of justice and solidarity."

At the same time, G-8 leaders have belittled the protesters and condemned violence that has driven summits behind growing layers of armed protection. British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month denounced the movement as "an anarchists' traveling circus."

Italy has mobilized at least 15,000 police and troops to protect an inner-city perimeter that includes within it Genoa's Ducal Palace, where Bush and other leaders will gather Friday, and the city's Mediterranean port, where most of them will sleep on a luxury cruise ship.

Police Chief Francesco Colucci is monitoring this top-security "red zone" on computer screens in a central command bunker at police headquarters.

Across town, the protesters have set up their own nerve center--a cramped office suite holding three computers, several boxes of anti-G-8 posters and T-shirts, and a few casually dressed, heavily pierced young Italians furiously sending and receiving e-mail.

This is the headquarters of the Genoa Social Forum, created last year to coordinate protest groups converging here against the G-8. "It's a very informal network, about 30 people with cell phones," said Carlo Bachschmidt, 35, the oldest organizer in the office.

The Forum has a technical team with a $300,000 budget. The team's 11 members have solicited scores of volunteers to pitch tents for the protesters at schools and sports fields and to provide free legal aid for anyone arrested.

Money comes from grass-roots subscriptions, a few rich individuals and well-endowed advocacy groups such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Major Italian and foreign affiliates of the Forum have pledged $750 apiece for its coffers.

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