In Germany, protesters and police ready for G-8 standoff

Up to 100,000 are expected to march Saturday. A $17-million fence and 16,000 officers aim to guard against violence surrounding next week's summit.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

It's a wet day here in the coastal town of Bad Doberan and a dozen masked agitators have gathered to hone the techniques they and thousands of others will use to block the road to the nearby Heiligendamm resort, where leaders of the world's wealthiest nations will gather for the annual Group of Eight (G-8) summit next week.

"OK, you have two choices when the police come for you," barks Karin Walther, their 20-something protest trainer, through a bullhorn. One, she explains, is to curl up in a ball, which keeps your head and limbs from getting banged but makes things easier for police. The other is to go limp.

"Everyone has to choose for themselves," she notes as "police" in black leather jackets and fraying jeans come to haul away the trainees, who first tuck themselves into fetal balls, then, on a second practice round, let themselves be dragged through the mud with limbs flopping.

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The session – one of more than 200 that have taught skills such as scaling fences and dodging tear gas – is part of a highly coordinated effort among G-8 protest organizers that is unmatched in the summit's history. With as many as 100,000 protesters expected to turn out, German police are taking bold steps to prepare for the possibility of violence, setting the stage for what could be Germany's biggest standoff since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Massive police turnout

In cities like Berlin and Hamburg, protesters – united by their belief that wealthy nations aren't doing enough to protect the environment and help the poor – have already begun spilling into the streets by the thousands.

Tensions peaked Monday, when a diverse group of about 5,000 demonstrators – among them churchgoers, labor-union organizers, and Turkish guest workers – gathered in Hamburg's St. Pauli district under the banner "Gate to Global Resistance."

Leading the march was a band of about 1,000 left-wing activists who donned black hoods and chanted slogans like "fight the police." The marchers were flanked by 2,800 officers in riot gear.

When police tried to break up the demonstration in the late afternoon, a small band of agitators began lobbing rocks and garbage cans, and building burning barricades.

Officers quelled the uproar with water cannons and batons. At least 179 people were injured and another 88 were detained, police say.

This has heightened concerns that the meeting might be marred by rioting like that seen in the 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy, where a 23-year-old activist was killed in clashes with police.

To guard against that prospect, about 16,000 police, 1,100 soldiers, 9 Navy ships, and several AWAC planes will patrol the site in Germany's largest police operation since unification.

The Baltic Sea resort where the event is taking place has been sealed off with a seven-mile fence that cost $17 million to build. It is anchored with 4,800 concrete slabs and has motion sensors and thick rolls of razor wire perched on top.

Officials have also tried to ban protests within four miles of the summit site and around nearby Rostock airport, where dignitaries will arrive, but German courts struck most of the provisions down.

What's more, police have collected scent samples of at least five far-left activists so they could be tracked with sniffing dogs.

Earlier in May, police raided around 40 left-wing gathering spots in Berlin and Hamburg. Officials said they were investigating a "terrorist" group that was planning to impede the G-8 meeting with arson attacks.

Germans decry 'Stasi' tactics

But many Germans are crying foul, and interest in attending protests around the summit has increased.

"I'm going because I want to show that I won't put up these Stasi tactics," says Paul Sachse, an artist who showed up at the Hamburg rally wearing a polka-dotted bow tie and a black fedora with a sign wired to the brim, which read, "Police state, no thank you."

Protest organizers say that since the raids they've been flooded with calls, and the hundreds of buses and trains they've chartered have been filling up.

"We've been scrambling to transport everyone," says Werner Rätz, coordinator of the G-8 activities for Attac, an antiglobalization group that has played a key role in planning this year's demonstrations. "In some cities, there have been no seats for weeks. Berlin has a waiting list of 10,000 people."

Even some mainstream politicians joined the resistance. Heiner Geissler, former general secretary of the Christian Democratic Union, caused a stir when he joined Attac recently to show support for making globalization more "humane" and for the right of people to demonstrate.

The surge in interest is adding momentum in the final days of a long effort. For 18 months, a broad coalition involving everyone from radical leftist groups to churches and mainstream NGOs has been working together to choreograph protest events, including a march, a rally, and a road blockade.

"Every sensible German organization, and many international ones, have joined in," says Paul Bendix, executive director of Oxfam Germany. "It's the only way to make our impact felt."

Though groups are united by their opposition to the summit, they have struggled over how aggressive to be. Mr. Bendix says Oxfam plans to pull out "if protests turn nasty."

Many residents in the region around Heiligendamm worry that they will.

"A lot of people are thinking Hamburg was just the prelude," says Ivo Sobkowiak who lives in Rostock, a city near Heiligendamm where the largest G-8 protest will be held Saturday. "They are afraid the real thing will be much wilder and that it could get out of control. Some people are boarding up windows or leaving town altogether."

[Editor's Note: The original subhead misstated the cost of the fence.]

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