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Anti-WTO protesters smash windows, burn cars in Geneva

November 28, 2009|From Reuters

GENEVA — Anti-capitalism protesters smashed the windows of banks, shops and cafes in central Geneva and set cars on fire on Saturday during a demonstration against the World Trade Organisation.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said some demonstrators were breaking the windows of every building they passed and setting off fireworks in the main shopping street.

Police in riot gear headed off groups of violent protesters.

A Reuters photographer said three cars had been set on fire near the city bus station. A pall of smoke hung over the city centre and tear gas drifted through the streets, though it was not clear whether this was fired by police or demonstrators.

The violent protesters were a minority in an otherwise good-natured crowd of about 2,000 people, accompanied by a dozen tractors and a marching band, who were demonstrating against a three-day WTO conference starting on Monday.

Protesters held up signs saying "Stop Capitalism, No WTO", "WTO is enemy of the climate" and "We will not sell our souls to the multinationals".

Police spokesman Patrick Pulh said later "The situation is

calmer now and the march has resumed its normal route."

Police blocked off roads to the WTO's lakeside headquarters, which has been barricaded for several days, and was untouched by the protest.

VIOLENT FRINGE, GOOD-NATURED CROWD

Before the violence erupted, Vera Weghmann, a 24-year-old student from Germany, said corporations play an unseen lobbying role at the WTO, steering its agreements in their favour.

"We see the WTO making policies for the big companies, not for the people," she said, wearing a wedding gown with the label "WTO" and walking arm in arm with Ole Hoffmann, 23, whose suit bore the corporate logos of Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Standard Chartered.

Two other "WTO brides" walked beside "grooms" with suits carrying the logos of food and drugs multinationals like Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Roche, Pfizer, Novartis and Bayer.

Activists say trade policies adopted by WTO members create poverty in rich and poor countries by squeezing farmers in developing countries and depressing labour standards in industrialised nations.

Pulh said three South Korean activists wanting to take part in protests and workshops during the conference had been refused entry to Switzerland at Geneva airport on instructions from the federal government in Berne.

Yoon Geum Sum, of the Korean Women Peasant Association, one of the groups organising the protests, said the three had been stripped and body-searched.

"This is a violation of human rights and a criminalisation of social movements. Our demand is their immediate release and an apology from the Swiss government," she said in a statement.

The last major demonstration in Geneva was in January during the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, when police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators.

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