Protests Persist At Trade Summit

More protesters besieged the Americas Summit, stretching the resources of police who fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets to keep them at bay for the second straight day.

The heads of state of 34 nations from North and South America and the Caribbean continued talks on Saturday, the second day of the summit, within a 2.3-mile (3.7-kilometer)-long chain-link and concrete fence surrounding the venues.

Outside and on the perimeter, it was a battle zone. Demonstrators pulled down several sections of fence with their bare hands or with ropes, or severed its links with bolt cutters. But each time, police drove them away with volleys of tear gas, with truck-mounted water cannons, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

About 300 protesters stared down a phalanx of riot police at the U.S.-Canadian border Sunday, climaxing three days of Buffalo-area protests against expanding free trade.

The Canadian-bound side of the Peace Bridge, which links Buffalo and Canada, was closed for several hours. Protesters drew a chalk line at the bridge's entrance, scrawling fair trade on one side of the line and free trade on the other.

The protesters beat drums and chanted - demanding the ability to make a symbolic crossing of the bridge. Meanwhile, several dozen police officers in riot gear and gas masks held shields and batons ready.

"What they're showing is that trucks and trade are allowed to go across the border, but people are not," said Laura McClusky of the Buffalo Action Network.

As the crowd grew, a police helicopter buzzed overhead. And a group of Buffalo fire fighters stood ready with water hoses, in case the rally became unruly.

At 2 p.m., about a dozen protesters linked hands and took a few steps forward. So police did the same. The two groups stood toe to toe for about 90 minutes before the protesters backed off.

The clashes between police and demonstrators opposed to creation of a hemisphere-wide free-trade area left much of the downtown area of this historic city wreathed in tear gas and its streets littered with rocks, broken bottles and other debris.

Unrest continued through the night along the riverfront, far from the summit venues, with protesters smashing windows and setting fires on some streets.

At the Holiday Inn Select hotel, manager Lyne Bergeron said a few windows were broken, and one had a large metal bar through it. Nothing was stolen, and police reported Sunday they arrested 253 people overnight.

Streets were quiet on a rainy Sunday orning, but security remained tight in case of more protests.

Some observers and participants were upset at the level of violence.

"I know nothing about free trade, but I know the cops are pushing too much," said Gaetan Gingras, who stood outside his home and offered cool water from a hose to protesters whose eyes were streaming from tear gas.

Many oppose a free-trade zone because they feel it will enrich corporations at the expense of the poor, risk jobs at home and because it is being negotiated without their consent. But some of the tens of thousands of protesters - most of whom demonstrated peacefully - thought some demonstrators who were trying to harm police or vandalizing property were going too far.

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Protesters hurled rocks, bottles and firebombs at police and even used hockey sticks to slapshot tear gas canisters back at the anti-riot officers.
Pros and Cons
Learn more about why some support and others oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas:

"The FTAA would intensify NAFTA's 'race to the bottom': under FTAA, exploited workers in Mexico could be leveraged against even more desperate workers in Haiti, Guatemala or Brazil by companies seeking tariff-free access back into U.S. markets."
— Public Citizen

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    "When one country eliminates or drastically reduces tariffs and other trade barriers, it can stimulate its own trade and increase its own growth. When all of the countries of our region join in reducing such barriers, the spur to trade, efficiency, and growth reaches a crescendo."
    — Alan Larson, State Dept.

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  • At one point, a group of black-clad self-described anarchists rammed wooden barricades through the windows of a bank, shattering them. Other protesters surrounded them and booed.

    "Go and confront the police. Don't destroy property. It gives us all a bad image," admonished Sel Burrows, a 57-year-old protester from Thompson, Canada.

    Burrows turned to a journalist. "They're just crazies," he said. "They don' represent the rest of us."

    Some of the police officers, weary after pulling long shifts, even sympathized with the demonstrators' viewpoint.

    "I agree 100 percent with the protesters, but not with the hooligans who are attacking us," one riot policeman who insisted on anonymity said in an interview. "This free-trade proposal bears watching. I have children, and I want them to have a chance to do well and be able to make a living."

    By Sunday morning, 403 people were reported arrested over the two days and 57 protesters and 46 police officers injured, none seriously. The summit ends on Sunday.

    By Andrew Selsky
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