Wel­come to hell,’ vow Ger­man anti-G20 pro­test­ers

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A ten minute walk from Ger­many’s heav­ily-guarded G20 sum­mit venue in the port city of Ham­burg lies the graf­fiti-cov­ered cen­tre of the left­wing protest move­ment vow­ing to dis­rupt it. “Cap­i­tal­ism will end any­way-you de­cide when!” reads a ban­ner atop the Rote Flora, a for­mer va­cant theatre that was oc­cu­pied by squatters in 1989 in the midst of de­mon­stra­tions and street bat­tles.

It has since be­come an al­ter­na­tive cul­tural cen­tre and spir­i­tual home for pro­test­ers against war, nu­clear power, cli­mate change, racism, big busi­ness and the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the now hip Stern­schanze district around it. In most years since, es­pe­cially on May 1 La­bor Days, black-clad youths with hood­ies and bal­a­clavas have hurled rocks and fire­works at ar­mored riot po­lice who have re­sponded with ba­tons, pep­per spray and wa­ter can­non. The rowdy an­nual rit­ual tends to end with sev­eral burn­ing cars and smashed shop win­dows, which the stiff-lipped cit­i­zens of the wealthy north­ern port have more or less learnt to live with.

But this year prom­ises to be far hot­ter than most, with the world lead­ers of the Group of 20 big in­dus­tri­al­ized and emerg­ing economies com­ing to town on July 78. Chancellor Angela Merkel has in­vited the lead­ers to the city of her birth, among them US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan. Posters and stick­ers cov­er­ing the Rote Flora and walls in cities across Ger­many have for months ral­lied demon­stra­tors to “Shut down” or “Smash the G20”, with 30 de­mon­stra­tions an­nounced in the sum­mit week start­ing to­day.

‘Com­bat­ive mes­sage’

“Wel­come to hell” is the eye-catch­ing motto of one of the ral­lies seen as likely to es­ca­late, or­ga­nized for July 6 by vet­eran Rote Flora ac­tivist An­dreas Blech­schmidt. “It’s a com­bat­ive mes­sage ... but it’s also meant to sym­bol­ize that G20 poli­cies world­wide are re­spon­si­ble for hellish con­di­tions like hunger, war and the cli­mate dis­as­ter,” he said. Blech­schmidt said ac­tivists would seek to block­ade ac­cess to the sum­mit venue and, as usual, “re­serve for them­selves the op­tion of mil­i­tant re­sis­tance” against po­lice.

Or­ga­niz­ers ex­pect a peak of over 100,000 demon­stra­tors, while po­lice es­ti­mate a hard core of 8,000 left-wing ex­trem­ists con­sid­ered likely to use vi­o­lence. “It will be the big­gest op­er­a­tion in the his­tory of Ham­burg’s po­lice,” said po­lice spokesman Timo Zell. About 20,000 of­fi­cers will se­cure Ger­many’s se­cond city and the sum­mit venues, a con­fer­ence cen­tre and the har­bour­side con­cert hall, the Elbphil­har­monie.

A hold­ing cen­tre for de­tainees has been set up with space for 400 peo­ple and de­ten­tion judges on hand. Po­lice will need to se­cure road con­voys from the air­port to the city cen­tre, in­clud­ing the US mo­tor­cade with its scores of ve­hi­cles. Po­lice have warned pro­test­ers who may be think­ing of a sit-in in front of Trump’s ar­mored pres­i­den­tial limou­sine known as “The Beast” that it may not stop. Border con­trols have been reim­posed since mid-June at cross­ings to nearby Den­mark and other neigh­bors af­ter protest or­ga­niz­ers mo­bi­lized across Europe and beyond.

‘Right to as­sem­ble’

Many Ham­burg res­i­dents are flee­ing town to evade traf­fic jams, ID checks and the noise of po­lice he­li­copters above, and some shops near the sum­mit are board­ing up their win­dows. Pro­test­ers have voiced anger about the city turn­ing into a po­lice “fortress”, and at a July 7-8 ban on de­mon­stra­tions across most of the city which will force ral­lies into har­bour­side ar­eas. Ge­org Is­mael, 25, of left­ist group Ar­beiter In­nen Macht, said that given how po­lice “are try­ing to put pres­sure on the or­ga­ni­za­tions mo­bi­liz­ing against the G20, you can ex­pect them to be vi­o­lent”. “We are pre­pared and we’ll try to de­fend our demo­cratic rights to as­sem­ble.” Many fear a re­run of the kind of ma­jor ur­ban clashes seen at the 2001 G8 sum­mit in Genoa, or the Frankfurt open­ing of the new Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank build­ing in 2015.

So why has Ger­many cho­sen the cen­tre of a large city af­ter most re­cent world sum­mits were held in se­cluded spots, such as the G7 at the Bavar­ian Alpine re­treat of El­mau? Ger­many says it wants to sig­nal trans­parency at a time when politi­cians are ac­cused of hid­ing away, and host the meet­ing in a port city that prides it­self as the coun­try’s “gate­way to the world”. An­other rea­son is lo­gis­tics: with over 10,000 del­e­gates and al­most 5,000 jour­nal­ists ex­pected, no Ger­man town, cas­tle, re­sort or cruise ship could host the mega-event. The gov­ern­ment hopes the sum­mit will be a suc­cess, but it fully ex­pects po­lice lights and wa­ter can­non or, as one of­fi­cial put it, a sum­mit that will be “blue and wet”.

—AP

HAM­BURG: Of­fi­cers of the po­lice sit at the G20 com­mand cen­ter in Ham­burg, Ger­many yes­ter­day. The po­lice will di­rect the se­cu­rity mea­sures dur­ing the G20 Sum­mit with state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy.

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