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Summit Opens Amid Deadly Street Protests

Italy: Leaders of G-8 nations promise to fight poverty and AIDS. Violence over aspects of globalization reaches new level as one demonstrator is killed.

July 21, 2001|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GENOA, Italy — Amid daylong spasms of violence that left one demonstrator dead, the leaders of the largest industrial democracies sought a unified attack Friday on sluggish economic growth. They promised to fight global poverty and advanced an international campaign against AIDS.

Their quiet, orderly conversations about the world's ills, conducted in the splendor of the 13th century Ducal Palace and over dinner in the nearby Doria Spinola Palace, stood in contrast to the scenes on the streets of this workaday port city: burning cars, looted banks, demonstrators with blood streaming down their faces after encounters with police and, in the end, a death.

The violence reached a new level for the demonstrations that have become a staple of such international meetings over the last year and a half. Although aimed at raising an amalgam of issues, the protests have been centered on fears that lowered trade barriers will reduce protections for workers and the environment.

President Bush, attending his first sessions of the Group of 8--the seven industrial giants and Russia--made no public comments as the day unfolded. Before he left Britain on Friday morning, he looked ahead to the likely prospect of violence--signaled as protesters streamed into Genoa over several days--and said some would try to disrupt the meetings, "claiming they represent the poor."

"To those folks I say, instead of addressing policies that represent the poor, you embrace policies that lock poor people into poverty, and that's unacceptable to the United States," he said. "Trade has been the best avenue for economic growth for all countries, and I reject the isolationism and protectionism that dominate those who will try to disrupt the meetings in Genoa."

Later, a deputy national security advisor, Gary Edson, who was the only aide at Bush's side during the meetings with other leaders, said the president had been told of the violence and death.

"The president regrets the violence. The death is tragic," Edson said.

The protester killed in Piazza Alimonda, about a mile east of the Ducal Palace, was an Italian resident of Genoa, police said. Italy's top police official said he was shot, apparently by officers acting in self-defense. But witnesses gave conflicting reports about whether he was beaten, shot or run over by a police jeep. News photos showed the man raising a fire extinguisher in the air and moving toward the jeep, then on the ground bleeding.

Tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Genoa throughout the day. Small groups of anarchists swarmed through the city, looting banks and attacking police, who were in riot gear. Other, larger protest groups sought to breach the barriers around the summit site without attacking the police. At least one group briefly got through a fence amid the barriers around the off-limits "red zone" where the leaders were meeting but was driven back by water cannons.

Police said 184 people were injured, including 60 police officers and 10 journalists, and more than 50 people were detained.

A senior Bush administration official said he heard no suggestion within the summit corridors that the sessions be suspended as a result of the violence.

Indeed, the protests had no apparent impact on the meetings Friday. Motorcades traversed the relatively short distances between the palaces and the pier at which the European Vision, the cruise ship that is home to all the leaders but Bush, was tied up. Bush stayed at a dockside hotel.

The meetings and travels were confined to the red zone. The leaders were many blocks away from the multiple rings of makeshift walls of shipping containers, wooden planks and metal mesh that have divided the city like the old Berlin Wall, meant to keep protesters far from the port.

Italian navy and police units patrolled the harbor. Within the red zone, shops were shuttered, private cars were banned and commerce came to a halt--creating the scene of a Potemkin village in reverse: fully constructed buildings, with no signs of life.

However, if the leaders looked up into the urban hills to the east, they could see plumes of menacing black smoke from burning police vans, private vehicles and tires rising over the city's pink and mauve buildings.

The death of the protester reflected the increasingly violent nature of protests at global political meetings over the last year and a half, beginning with demonstrations by about 40,000 opponents of increased unfettered global trade that brought a halt to the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December 1999.

At the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April, tear gas wafted toward meeting halls, and police used water cannons and rubber pellets as demonstrators sought to breach a concrete-and-chain-link barrier. But the scale of protest--and injuries--was limited.

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