Police brace for march after Summit of the Americas turns violent

Saturday, April 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

QUEBEC (AP) _ Riot police braced for more violence Saturday after clashes with protesters transformed the picturesque streets of this 17th century capital into a battlefield clouded with tear gas.

Protesters angry that they were denied access to the Summit of the Americas tore down a piece of a 2.3-mile wall that was built to keep them away from the trade summit. The clashes continued into the night, with police using tear gas, rubber bullets and a powerful water cannon to disperse the crowd.

The broken section of the security fence was rebuilt on Saturday, reinforced by additional concrete blocks. Some of the estimated 1,000 demonstrators had said they objected to the security wall as much as they did to the summit, where leaders advanced plans to create the world's largest free-trade zone.

``It seems crazy that to voice your opinion you've got to come out with a gas mask,'' said Jezebel McDonald, a 28-year-old Britisher living in Toronto who wore a gas mask around her neck.

During Saturday's working session, President Bush said he wanted to listen to his fellow leaders and ``those outside this hall who want to join us in constructive dialogue'' about expanded trade. ``Open trade reinforces the habit of liberty that sustains democracy over the long haul,'' he said.

The demonstration erupted Friday afternoon only blocks from the site of the summit and the hotels housing 34 leaders of the Americas, including President Bush.

Some of the protesters threw bricks, hockey pucks, firebombs _ and even teddy bears _ at the police. Police fought back with dozens of volleys of tear gas. Marching in time to the beat of night sticks on their plastic shields, officers periodically charged the protesters.

More clashes broke out elsewhere along the security fence, lasting well into the night. Police arrested 100 people. Authorities said five police officers were hurt, and several protesters and journalists also suffered minor injuries.

Even before the trouble ended, police were bracing for a major march on Saturday _ a demonstration they feared could spark more violence. Protesters who have come from across Canada, the United States and Latin America scheduled a march near the security perimeter in their biggest planned show of force of the weekend summit.

The protesters represent a diverse range of activists _ organized labor, human rights organizations, environmental groups and others who say the talks on creating a Western Hemisphere free-trade zone should be held in public instead of in a locked conference center. Many said that forced them to express their opposition through street protests.

``People only remember Seattle (the site of major protests), not the other summits,'' said Guillaume Bernabe, 20, of Sherbrooke, near Quebec City. ``If we can pass our message, we have gone in a good direction.''

Bernabe, wearing a black ski mask, sat in the middle of a street, tear gas billowing around him, facing a line of police with helmets, gas masks and shields. He said he expected more violence because with the clashes ``this summit started too much on a bad foot.''

Some leaders at the summit criticized the protesters, calling them ignorant of the desperation throughout much of Latin America that those leaders say a free-trade pact could help alleviate.

``It's very easy to protest when you have a job, when you have food on the table, like those protesters have,'' Mexican President Vicente Fox said.

In the summit's opening address, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said the violence ``is contrary to all democratic principles that are so dear to us. These individuals, these people do not represent the vast majority of those who have come to Quebec City in order to express peacefully and calmly their legitimate concerns.''

Some protesters attacked journalists covering the violence, breaking cameras and hitting one television journalist with street signs.