Europe debates curbs on 'riot tourists'

One month after the G-8 summit, proposals include a shared police force and a database on protesters.

Close to 1,000 protesters marched through the streets of Berlin Monday night to mark the death of Carlo Giuliani, a demonstrator shot by police at the Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, last month.

Protesters also called for the release of 15 Germans still held in Italian jails.

Similar demonstrations took place in other cities in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Genoa held memorial services as well.

The observances come as Europe's governments consider new ways to curb so-called "riot tourists" in the wake of Genoa - where unrest led to 500 injuries, 300 arrests, and millions in damage - and European Union meetings in June in Goteborg, Sweden, where police shot three demonstrators.

Antiglobalization groups say the proposed measures violate their rights to free speech and travel. But governments say increasing violence at global gatherings - blamed on a small number of anarchists among tens of thousands of demonstrators - requires firm action.

It's a difficult balancing act. Italy's government has been sharply criticized for police aggression in Genoa. Italian officials have fired three police commanders, and more than 10 investigations are under way.

The German government is also under fire for its preventive measures. "On the eve of Genoa, the German government issued travel restrictions for protesters listed in a database of activists with a potential for violence," says Thomas Fritz, coordinator of the Berlin chapter of Attac Germany, an antiglobalization group.

"In Germany, the right to protest is a very sensitive area because of our history," says Olaf Griebenow, spokesman for Berlin-based Gegen Polizeigewalt (Stop Police Brutality.) "One thing we learned from the Third Reich is that you can't prohibit protests."

Earlier this month, German Interior Minister Otto Schily and his Italian counterpart, Claudio Scajola, proposed even stronger measures, including the creation of a pan-European anti-riot police force that would "improve tactics and rebuild forces to allow for summits like the G-8." Mr. Schily also called for the creation of a Europe-wide database of potentially violent protesters.

The proposals drew immediate criticism from antiglobalists and civil rights groups in Germany, who believe such programs will lead to curbs on political freedom.

"I'm afraid that if they expand that database across Europe, it will be filled with data and suspicions about people who haven't done anything wrong," says Gegen Polizeigewalt's Mr. Griebenow. "Those people won't be allowed to leave the country."

"It's not a question of trying to limit the right to protest," says Dirk Inger, spokesman for the German Interior Minister. "The question is: How can you keep such summit meetings from turning into riots?"

As to the travel restrictions, Mr. Inger says: "There is no constitutional right in Germany to leave the country, and the German government wants to prevent those types from causing riots."

Such questions weigh heavily on other cities planning to host major international meetings. On Monday, organizers of demonstrations at next month's annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington filed a lawsuit against plans to close off more than 40 city blocks. In Rome, European antiglobalists are expected to protest the UN World Food summit slated for Nov. 20-25.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Europe debates curbs on 'riot tourists'
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today