Quebec says never again after summit violence


QUEBEC CITY, Reuters

A shaken but unbroken Quebec City breathed a sigh of relief on Monday following the violence-marred Summit of the Americas, as authorities vowed never to host such a meeting again.

The weekend summit 34 heads of government from the Western Hemisphere — all but Cuba — was punctuated by volleys of rubber bullets and clouds of tear gas as black-clad anarchists and other rock- and bottle-throwing demonstrators led one attempt after another to disrupt talks aimed at creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), stretching from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego.

The anti-globalization protests forced minor delays to top-level talks, but there was no repeat of the 1999 “Siege of Seattle”, when U.S. President Bill Clinton was unable to leave his hotel to attend World Trade Organization talks because of demonstrators crowded round the doors.

“The worst did not happen. We had learned from Seattle and Prague,” said Robert Poeti of the Quebec provincial police, referring also to violence at international financial meetings in the Czech Republic last year.

“Damage could have been much worse, taking into account the high violence of protesters,” said.

The Quebec government said the final bill for summit security would reach at least C$100 million (US$65 million), including the cost of the 3-meter (10-foot) security fence and the expenses for 6,700 police officers and 1,500 soldiers.

Officials said it was too high a price.

“We hope there won’t be a next time,” said Quebec Public Security Minister Serge Menard, defending the fence the protesters had dubbed the “Wall of Shame.”

“If we would not have had the wall, groups of trouble makers would have attacked the hotels and the heads of states’ convoys,” he told reporters.

Quebec City Mayor Jean-Paul L’Allier, who at one stage had asked the Canadian government to postpone the meeting, said he was saddened by the clouds of tear gas and the televised violence in the streets of his city.

“In the circumstances, the event went well, but the confrontations gave a pitiful image of the city,” L’Allier said.

He said property damage was limited and the historic city of 700,000, a UNESCO world heritage site, had managed to accommodate the army of police, delegates, journalists and protesters without problems.

More than 460 demonstrators were arrested over three days and 200 people were injured, including 50 police officers.

But anti-globalization groups condemned “excessive violence” used by police, complaining that innocent bystanders were hit by tear gas and forced to flee rubber bullets.

“We denounce the hypocrisy of a process where government leaders are supposedly discussing democracy, while peaceful protesters are being tear-gassed in the streets,” said Pierre-Yves Serinet, a spokesman for the Hemispheric Social Alliance. “International guests are appalled at the use of such extreme measures.”