Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Running street skirmishes erupt at Melbourne summit


Police on horseback and wielding batons clashed with rock and bottle-throwing demonstrators outside a meeting of some the world's top financial officials yesterday, turning what had been promised as a peaceful rally against poverty into running street skirmishes.

One officer was taken to hospital with a wrist broken by a toppled steel barricade and several other police received scratches and bruises but stayed on duty, police said.

Two demonstrators were arrested, and more arrests were expected, Victoria state Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said.

"They threw missiles and rocks, bins -- anything they could get their hands on they threw it at police and damaged property," she told reporters. "We have not had anything like this, any kind of violent demonstration in the last six years."

Police on horseback and other uniform and riot officers brandishing shields and batons kept protesters out of the plush hotel where US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and top officials from Europe, Asia and Latin America opened two days of talks on global economic issues.

Protesters ripped apart traffic barricades and sprayed slogans on at least one building, reporters and photographers at the scene said.

At one place, about 200 demonstrators rained stones, glass bottles and plastic garbage bins down on about one dozen police standing near a police car and truck parked outside the security perimeter, an AP photographer said.

The police ducked behind the vehicles to avoid the barrage, until a contingent of mounted police charged from behind the security fence and drove the protesters off.

About 200 charging demonstrators threw brown smoke grenades at a line of mounted police at a barricade but were beaten back by officers wielding batons. It was unclear whether anyone was injured.

About 3,000 people rallied at a city park around midday yesterday, then marched on the meeting of the Group of 20 finance minister and central bankers. But most of the violence appeared to center around a group of about 200 demonstrators dressed in white coveralls with red bandanas tied around their faces.

The group ran from one location to another near the venue, challenging police before retreating.

The unrest recalled the widespread violence at anti-globalization protests that marked the WTO's meeting in Seattle in 1999, and a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne the following year.

"There is a hardcore militant and violent element among these protesters," Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, the G20 meeting's chairman, told a news conference after the day's deliberations.

"These are people who want to trash the streets of Melbourne and trash the reputation of Australia," he said. "We won't stand for that."

Nixon blamed the violence on fewer than 100 protesters dressed in white whom police knew were coming with the intention of creating violence. She would not name the group they represented, saying she did not want to give them publicity.

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