24 september 2009

Police use pepper gas to disperse G20 protesters

Financial Times, Pittsburgh, Sept 24

- Police used pepper gas to disperse protesters at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh on Thursday as about 2,000 people marched despite warnings that force would be used to end the demonstration.

”You must leave the immediate vicinity regardless of your purpose,” police in full riot gear told protesters over bullhorns about an hour into the march.

Police then cautioned that gas and other ”non-lethal force” would be deployed.

With protesters sent down various streets by police, the two sides eventually clashed in Lawrenceville, about a mile (1.6 km) from the cordoned-off convention center where the G20 talks were taking place.

Protesters threw bottles and police responded by sending five to 10 canisters into the crowd. The sharp smell of the gas irritated the eyes and throats of protesters, some of them vomiting as they ran.

Leaders of 19 leading developed and developing economies and the European Union are meeting on Thursday and Friday in Pittsburgh for a G20 gathering to discuss how to improve financial reforms to avoid another global economic crisis.

Protests -- usually against some aspect of capitalism -have marked major gatherings of world leaders on the economy for years, sometimes turning violent and forcing summit organisers to use fortress-like security.

US secret service spokesman Darrin Blackford said the gas used on Thursday was OC Vapor, which contains the active ingredient in pepper spray and causes the eyes to tear.

The marchers overturned dumpsters and hurled anything they could find at police, who gave chase and split them into ever smaller groups.

Earsplittingly loud sirens sent protesters fleeing. Protesters wore bandannas and goggles and held aloft a large black sign declaring ”No hope in capitalism” and another saying ”Kick Capitalism While It Is Down.”

Another sign simply said ”I’m mad as hell.”

”We’re here to put pressure on the G20 to ultimately abolish global capitalism,” said a 24-year-old man from Delaware, who declined to give his name.

Justin Hershkovitz, 26, a student from Michigan, complained about the police tactics as he ran from the officers.

”This kind of force has been used as an option of first resort by cops (at summits) in Italy, London and now Pittsburgh,” he said. ”We have managed to create a pretty big disturbance without destroying any property.”

A G20 meeting in London in April drew several thousand people to protests that began peacefully before turning violent, with one person collapsing dead.

As protesters in Pittsburgh ran down streets in the Strip District, some residents stood in their doorways and cheered then on.

”Get a job,” one man shouted at a running demonstrator.

Protesters said they felt left out as leaders sought solutions to global economic problems.

”We just want to protest that it’s a closed door meeting in a supposedly democratic society,” Katy Slininger, 20, a student who came from Philadelphia. ”Holding something like this without public input isn’t right.”

Protesters said they planned a series of actions on Friday outside ”institutions that the G20 protects and defends,” including Starbucks, Gap, McDonald’s and banks.

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