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THE WORLD

Needling World Leaders

Protests: In contrast to Genoa and Seattle, G-8 activists in Canada make their point by knitting.

June 27, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CALGARY, Canada — It was a far cry from the pitched street battles of Genoa, Italy, and Seattle.

Sitting quietly in a sunny pedestrian mall, with foreign camera crews hovering on the peaceful periphery, two dozen anti-globalization protesters were, quite literally, tending to their knitting.

The self-styled "revolutionary knitting circle"--a symbolic strike against Third World sweatshops and First World corporations, organizer Grant Newfeld explained--was one example of what passes for radical protest in this conservative oil town as it plays host to the thousands of journalists, activists and government officials lured here by the Group of 8 summit in the Kananaskis wilderness 50 miles to the west.

"I'm skeptical that the G-8 leaders even know what is happening in the streets here, but I'm hoping that what we do will have some sort of impact," said Erin Kelly, a young protester from Edmonton, the province of Alberta's other chief city, as she watched her earnestly knitting comrades.

Earlier on Wednesday, bicyclists in bright green frog suits cruised through town--a demonstration meant to evoke what a statement from the anti-global warming G8 Bike Brigade called "the frightening and pertinent metaphor" of a frog unwittingly boiled alive in a gradually heating saucepan.

A more standard anti-G-8 protest marched uneventfully past a phalanx of police officers downtown with a banner proclaiming: "Oppose Globalization--Adopt Voluntary Poverty." The day before, in one piece of street theater that successfully roused world media attention, demonstrators staged a "nude protest" outside a Gap outlet, stripping down to undergarments or less to dramatize their campaign for a boycott of the clothing chain for its alleged exploitation of cheap labor abroad.

As the helicopter gunships clattering overhead made clear, Canadian security services came here prepared to confront far more obstreperous protesters--as well as possible terrorist attacks. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police distributed pamphlets to Calgary shopkeepers advising them how to cope with pepper spray ("don't rub your eyes") and tear gas ("get into the fresh air as soon as possible"). The airport, the convention hall that houses the G-8 media center, and the Kananaskis summit site itself were all ringed with emergency fencing patrolled by heavily armed police and army personnel.

In the high plains and rocky peaks west of Calgary, in what Canadian officials called their biggest domestic military operation since World War II, thousands of soldiers have dug in, creating temporary bunkers and guard posts on paved roads and back-country trails and blocking overland access to the remote summit lodge. Their commander, Brig. Gen. Ivan Fenton, told the Calgary Herald that his troops had permission to use "lethal force" against anyone trying to breach these defenses.

All commercial and private aircraft were banned from the skies over Calgary and Kananaskis for the duration of the two-day meeting, but the Canadian military wasn't taking any chances: F-16s crisscrossed the protected airspace Wednesday, while a battery of surface-to-air missiles stood ready in the woods outside the lodge where the leaders were discussing everything from Palestinian elections to the euro exchange rate.

But with the exception of a pair of demonstrators arrested early Wednesday in a scuffle outside a McDonald's, the Calgary protesters have been scrupulously peaceful and law abiding, local authorities say. Much of the anti-G-8 activity has been confined to sober counter-conferences on economic development strategies for Africa and other poor regions. After the city of Calgary refused to grant permits for mass rallies in local parks, Canadian organizers arranged for parallel protests in Ottawa on Wednesday and today, deliberately reducing the influx of demonstrators here.

The demonstrations Wednesday in Canada's capital were larger and more raucous than the protests here, with activists burning American flags outside the U.S. Embassy, dancing naked in front of the Parliament building and hurling golf balls at police cars, according to news reports.

At a border post south of Calgary, meanwhile, Canadian authorities announced that they had arrested two unidentified U.S. citizens who they said had crossed into Canada illegally Wednesday after being denied entry Tuesday night. "The individuals are believed to have been entering Canada to attend G-8-related protests and were found to be in possession of gas masks and graffiti equipment," the Canadian government said.

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