SWEDEN: Thousands of Protestors Converge on EU Summit

Publisher Name: 
Associated Press

Thousands of anti-globalization and environmental activists converged Thursday on this port city as President Bush joined 15 European Union leaders for a summit expected to focus on the widening gap between Washington and its European allies.

Police expected about 12,000 people to join rallies scheduled throughout the day. If those estimates prove accurate, the protests would be the largest so far during Bush's tour, which began Tuesday in Madrid, Spain.

Bush arrived here Thursday morning from Brussels, Belgium, for his first U.S.-EU summit.

More than 80 protest groups were expected to take part in rallies here, which leaders insisted would be peaceful.

In anticipation of trouble, however, several merchants in the downtown district boarded up their storefronts, including at least one McDonald's restaurant.

Some groups oppose specific U.S. policies, such as the death penalty and Bush's rejection of the Kyoto agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Many protesters are concerned that global corporations have gained too much control and exploit the poor and the environment. Much of their anger is directed at the United States, home of many of the world's largest multinational corporations.

"I think another world is possible," said activist Hans Abrahamsson.

The protests will be spearheaded by ATTAC, a French-based group that champions a tax on speculative transactions to raise billions for poor countries.

Other groups, including followers of the Chinese group Falun Gong and Iranian exiles, also plan demonstrations during Bush's visit and the EU summit that follows Friday and Saturday.

On Thursday, hundreds of Iranian exiles gathered in a downtown square to hear speakers denounce newly re-elected Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

"They are appealing that the leaders would not shake hands with the murderers of the Iranian people," said a protest leader, Nasser Rashidi.

Protesters have been preparing for days in this western port city of about 500,000. About 3,000 of them were sleeping in makeshift accommodations that authorities set up in public schools.

So far, police have reported no serious incidents, although they arrested five Danes this week for suspicion of planning "sabotage" during the summit.

Clashes between demonstrators and police have marred international summits since the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999.

There have been few protests during the more than 80 EU-related meetings held in Sweden. The government wants to keep it that way. But Sweden also has a long tradition of tolerating dissent. Some of the protesters' goals, including protection of the environment, are shared by many ordinary Swedes.

Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, who met with about 400 representatives of the protest groups Wednesday, asked them to avoid violence. Persson also assured that he and his EU colleagues would tell Bush of Europe's concern over his policies.

"I am convinced that we will agree to disagree about substance," Persson said.

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