APEC Summit: To Riot or Not to Riot

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 9/05/2007 09:24:00 PM
Australian PM John Howard and US President George W. Bush are ideologically alike. Howard and Bush did not sign on to the Kyoto Protocol and are both [1, 2] "environmentalists of convenience," if there were such a thing. They also are strong proponents of the Iraq invasion. Thus, it is no surprise that an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in the Land of Oz headlined by these two would draw the ire of environmental and anti-war protesters the world over. The Sydney Morning Herald has a big special section on the expected lockdown of Sydney for the APEC event because of security concerns. Yet, there are different views among protesters as to whether violence is called for. Resistance, the so-called Socialist Youth Organization, has indicated its plans to protest without resorting to violence:
The presence of Bush, the world’s leading mass murderer and climate vandal, provides an obvious focal point for these different social movements to unite and mobilise around. The Stop Bush collective is united in the desire to use the demonstrations to give a big, ongoing boost to the movements that oppose Howard’s agenda and to drive him from power in the next federal election. However, a range of debates have opened up inside and outside of the organising collective, centred on what type of protest should be held, what tactics will be used at the protest, and how the demonstration can be most effectively built.

The federal Coalition government and the NSW Labor government are certainly very clear on what tactics they’ll be using: fear, intimidation and division. The corporate media is already helping to whip up “security” hysteria, spreading threats of “anti-terror” repression of protesters. The scare campaign is clearly aimed at terrorising people into staying away from the APEC demonstrations by insinuating that they will be “violent”.

The demands around the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the environment and Howard’s anti-worker legislation have the support of the majority of Australians. However, this sentiment has not been expressed in strong, ongoing social movements. Resistance believes that our challenge is to build the largest APEC protest possible, in order to strengthen these movements and demonstrate our rejection of Bush’s and Howard’s policies.

We need to explain to people that our aim is to build a mass, peaceful rally focused on these common political demands. That is: make clear that the threat of violence comes not from protesters but from the federal and state governments. We must assert our right to protest in the context of a crackdown on civil liberties.
However, Australian judges have sought extended powers to curb expected civil disobedience. They are taking no chances. Even those performing "non-violent civil disobedience" risk arrest:

Protesters at Saturday's main rally against the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum may risk arrest through "non-violent civil disobedience" after a court win by police stripped organisers of their preferred route through the security zone.

The commander of the NSW Police Public Order and Riot Squad, Chief Superintendent Stephen Cullen, told the Supreme Court yesterday that Sydney would face unprecedented violence during APEC and "full-scale riots" if the protest were allowed down George Street.

Justice Michael Adams granted the application by the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, for an order preventing the Stop Bush Coalition marching from Town Hall down George Street and Martin Place to Hyde Park. The protesters now risk arrest if they ignore the order and march to the intersection of George and King streets, where police will erect a security barrier.

Mr Cullen warned of "horrendous consequences" if protesters were pushed into the newly announced blockade. "Police lines will come under attack and a full-scale riot is probable [if the route were approved]," he told the court.

"Well-drilled and disciplined" members of violent splinter groups would agitate during the protests, stirring up usually peaceful marchers.

"Based upon my research, experience, current intelligence and evidence from internationally similar events - more recently G20 in Melbourne - I have absolutely no doubt that minority groups will engage in a level of violence not previously experienced in Sydney.

"Never in my career have I held such serious concerns for public safety as I do during the conduct of APEC, or more specifically this particular march".

Mr Cullen denied he had been alarmist or had made considerable exaggerations about the risks of violence when questioned by the Stop Bush Coalition's barrister, Michael Bozic.

Outside the court, the coalition's spokesman, Alex Bainbridge, said police had ambushed the protesters with the announcement of the barrier.

"We were always under the understanding that these areas were open to the public," he said.

Coalition members were to meet last night to consider options, he said, but may still go ahead with plans that would lead to confrontation with police.

"The court has made very clear that we have got a right to protest," he said. "The court order today prohibits nothing: our rally and demonstration will be going ahead.

"As we have always said we intend for this to be a peaceful protest. We have never ruled out non-violent civil disobedience."

Meanwhile, the NSW Greens say police have offered to turn a blind eye to a planned media conference in Martin Place tomorrow as long as the party withdraws its application for official permission for a rally.

But the Greens MP Sylvia Hale said she would still seek official permission to gain protection as an authorised public assembly.

It should be interesting to watch if APEC protesters are as lively as their European counterparts. As always, I predict a riot for not all groups intend to demonstrate peacefully. For instance, the interestingly named b.a.s.t.a.r.d. (Brisbane Anarchists Sabotaging The Australian Representative Democracy) has a blog post stating "If demonstrations turn violent it will be nothing compared with the violence that will inevitably result from the handshakes of those inside."
The organisers of a radical protest group say they cannot rule out violence at the main rally against the APEC forum this Saturday - and have defended a manual they produced which provided controversial advice to protesters.

The claims emerged yesterday, after the Prime Minister, John Howard, had attacked the integrity of anti-globalisation protesters, saying their hatred of capitalism was hypocritical. [See this SMH article.]

"Most of these people are demonstrating broadly against capitalism and economic growth, they hate it," he said.

"They think economic growth is poison for the poor instead of being a lifeline for the poor."

But the "FLARE in the Void" collective, one of the protest groups, which had been under fire for a manual they produced which tells activists how to disguise themselves during protests, said their work was a harmless "collection of writings".

One of the organisers, Lou Thatcher, 25, said she didn't think the outrage of the police and the Police Minister was genuine.

Neither Ms Thatcher or her fellow FLARE organiser, university student Navin Gill, 21, could understand the concern the manual had caused in this most security conscious of weeks. "[The manual] is clearly being used in a manipulative and false way as part of a fear campaign," said Ms Thatcher.

She said the collective, which has about 100 members, was holding a series of workshops and meetings in Marrickville from tomorrow to mark their opposition to the APEC summit.

"We can't say what's going to happen on the day, I don't want anyone to get hurt and I don't want anyone to get arrested," she said. "But what happens at that rally is going to be determined by who turns up."

They both said if the crowd decided to break police lines they would participate in that action regardless of the consequences.

Mr Howard said gatherings such as APEC helped alleviate global poverty by promoting economic growth and trade.

"If they are so concerned about world poverty, why don't they stop for a moment and recognise that the economic growth in the APEC region has lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty since APEC was founded?

Not all the protests being organised for APEC are aimed at globalism. Many groups are opposed to US President George Bush and the war in Iraq.

Mr Howard blamed the fencing through the central business district on protesters threatening violence.

"It's not the fault of the guests in our country," he said.

The fence stretches from King Street to Circular Quay and from George to Macquarie streets and will keep any protesters a long way from dignitaries.

He refused to say whether there was any intelligence warning of a major incident.