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Frustration aimed at chain-link fence (FTAA)

Excellent article from mainstream Canadian press on some of what happened over the last two days at the "security" fence in Quebec City.
Frustration aimed at chain-link fence

The Montreal Gazette

The crack of tear-gas canisters could be heard well into the night.

Quebec's capital has become a city charged with dissent.

Passive activists abandoned peaceful protest to join others in direct confrontation yesterday, hurling Molotov cocktails and slinging marbles at police in a clash that shows no signs of subsiding.

For many, the only way to get the attention of officials negotiating a free- trade agreement at the Summit of the Americas was to attack the security perimeter - the same chain-link fence they breached the day before, the fence that has come to symbolize the neglect people feel from their elected leaders.

Radical protesters tore down the security perimeter briefly in at least two areas yesterday, then retreated.

The hopes and voices of many others collapsed in waves of tear gas, as well-organized police pushed back activists.

This city's streets are bleeding noxious fumes. Almost everywhere, one feels the gas burning lungs and skin.

In certain quarters, it has seeped into homes and hotels.

It is the police tactic of choice to contain disaffection.

Two police observers from Seattle, the site of the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings, said they were amazed at the police efficiency and control.

One delegate in a meeting of ministers from North and South America talking about a civil society said everything the protesters want is in the trade texts.

The turmoil and anger on the streets told a different story.

And, as it has often been in this city's history, the area surrounding Place D'Youville was the heart of discontent. For most of the day yesterday, it was an unremitting clash zone between police and protesters.

Helicopters whirred, police dogs barked incessantly and water cannon after cannon advanced on the barriers. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at advancing protesters. The demonstrators shrieked and hollered and came back for more.

"This is terrible. I don't want to see the next step. I don't want to see the city destroyed," said Malvina-Michelle Roy Delwaide, 70.

The fights escalated with protesters lighting fires and lobbing flares, Molotov cocktails, bottles and smoking tear-gas canisters over the barrier at riot police. Thousands amassed on the exit ramp to the Dufferin-Montmorency Highway, just out of reach of the billowing tear gas, but in full view of the Hilton Hotel and the convention centre where delegates to the summit shuttled uninterrupted.

The frustration did not abate overnight.

Even before the peaceful marches began in the lower city, clusters of activists up the hill shook the fence again, bolstered by their security perimeter break-in at the same spot Friday.

Police blasted back shouting protesters, many of them Black Bloc cell members who engage in selective violent protest, with high-powered water cannons.

Activists went down like shooting ducks. But after round upon round of alternating tear gas and water cannons coming at them at point blank range, they got up - again and again.

The protesters seemed to revel in the dousing, taunting police to keep on spraying. One protester even continued playing the bagpipes as the water drenched him.

Riot-squad officers continued using plastic bullets yesterday to quell the protesters, often firing them at individual demonstrators at point-blank range.

And for the first time this weekend, police used pepper-spray on protesters. One Surete du Quebec officer ran up to a line of activists standing right up against the fence and sprayed them all in the face before retreating.

The competing drum beats urging the activists on were deafening.

One protester would climb halfway up the chain link, cling to the wall and face the water head on, one second, two seconds, three seconds, before falling back from the pressure of the water bursting out the police hose only 2 metres away.

Activists hurled toilet paper, sticks, hub caps, a box of doughnuts, feather dusters, glass bottles filled with wine, firecrackers and a steady stream of tear-gas canisters that only moments before police had fired over the fence.

"The planet is dying! Half the world's organisms are already dead and you hide behind your fence and call us criminals. You think you can tell us how to run our world?" one young man screamed across the fence.

At the same time just down the hill, against the ever-present background of tam-tam music, thousands of demonstrators marched north through Quebec City in an event organized by the Quebec Federation of Labour.

Members of the Confederation of National Trade Unions, the Canadian Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers Association, along with a host of smaller unions, shouted familiar labour slogans as they wound their way to the outskirts of the city.

The seemingly endless stream of people took an hour to walk from one end of the march to the other. Police said they numbered 25,000.

Remarkably, there was no police presence along the parade route. The QFL security people in red kept an eye on the crowd, but the march remained peaceful.

However, many participants refused to condemn more aggressive protest tactics in use at the summit security perimeter.

"It's been very difficult for our members to keep them on this route," said Carol Phillips of the Canadian Autoworkers.

"They see that some of the violent demonstrators have been successful."

Confrontations for much of the afternoon yesterday came in spurts.

At the site of the first perimeter breach, the conflict quickly reignited when a few hundred protesters, who had dispersed, came back.

One black-clad protester launched a large chunk of concrete that hit an SQ riot-squad officer in the head, knocking him flat on his back.

That attack launched a massive round of tear gas spraying from the police, sending protesters and onlookers scrambling away teary-eyed and coughing.

Around 5 p.m., as the riot-squad officers took a break, one RCMP officer fainted. As police medics attended to him, several colleagues grumbled about the fact they didn't have anything substantial to drink.

"Why don't they get us some Gatorade or Powerade," one of them muttered. "This water is useless."

One of the RCMP anti-riot officers at the scene was Hugh Stewart, nicknamed Sgt. Pepper for his liberal use of pepper spray on protesters at the APEC conference in Vancouver in 1997.

Stewart kept a lower profile at yesterday's protest, but did lob one canister of tear gas at protesters demonstrating on a tiny side street.

Everywhere there were holes in the summit perimeter, there were riot police to patch them up. When they could, police pushed back the protesters far from the fence.

"Their main target is to try and compromise the summit," said Capt. Michel Martin of the SQ. "Our mandate is to make sure that both sides of the fence are protected."

But the police reaction seemed to harden protesters' views of the repressive measures they claim are being taken to shut them out of the summit.

Many protesters complained that police were tear-gassing indiscriminately, failing to differentiate between those who just wanted to be present at the wall and those bent on destroying it.

"One guy gave a rose to the police," said Laurie Fourneau of Montreal, as she rinsed her red eyes in an alley not far from the front line. "No one here (now) is attacking the police, but they're attacking us."

Everywhere there were protesters it seemed, there were residents willing to help them. At one corner in the Lower Town, a bar-owner ran a hose for appreciative protesters as they passed by on their way to another demonstration. They rinsed their handkerchiefs, washed their faces and filled up water bottles as the man held the hose.

"This is my form of protest," the man said, as tear gas filled the street and the his eyes started to water. One protester poured vinegar on the man's sweatshirt so he could hold it over his face.