Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sydney protest peaceful ahead of Bush's APEC visit

From: Michael Perry -Reuters

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The first APEC protest was staged in Sydney on Tuesday, hours before U.S. President George W. Bush was due to arrive for a summit of 21 Asia-Pacific leaders, but police and media far outnumbered activists.

Chanting "Bush go home", "Out of Iraq" and "Go Back to Texas now", about 100 protesters staged a peaceful but noisy demonstration outside Sydney's main railway station.

Ringed and photographed by police, protesters waved anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush posters, while a tall black and white skeleton puppet danced as rush-hour commuters headed home.

"We cannot sit on the sidelines while a warmonger like George Bush comes to our country," protest organizer Alex Bainbridge told the "Stop Bush 2007" rally.

But within an hour most protesters had dispersed.

Australian police said they expect violent protests during the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit week and have launched the nation's biggest ever security operation.

Authorities have erected a 5-km (3-mile) security fence across the central business district to isolate the leaders in the Sydney Opera House and nearby hotels. A total of 5,000 police and troops are patrolling the city centre.

Protesters plan a major rally on Saturday, the first day the leaders meet, but police have refused to issue a march permit.

"Our intelligence tells us there is an intent to act violently," New South Wales (NSW) state Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said.


Police took court action on Tuesday to stop the march. The court adjourned the case until Wednesday, saying protesters had insufficient time to prepare for the case.

Police said they are not opposed to a march but reject the protesters' planned route, which passes the U.S. Consulate in Sydney, but is several city blocks from the summit venue.

"We are not going to be intimidated," said Bainbridge who is organizing the "Stop Bush Coalition" march on Saturday, promising 20,000 protesters will take to the streets.

"We cannot stop defending our democratic rights, defending our civil liberties," Bainbridge said.

With Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin attending the APEC summit, protesters also plan to demonstrate against human rights abuses in China, nuclear proliferation and global warming.

Police warned Sydney residents to avoid protests.

"Be aware of the mob rule mentality. Don't be enticed by those that would seek to have you get involved in an unlawful act," Scipione told a news conference.

Members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is outlawed in China, staged a candle-lit protest when Hu arrived in the outback mining state of Western Australia on Monday and plan similar protests in Canberra and Sydney, following Hu throughout his Australian trip.

Sydney school students plan to walk out of classrooms on Wednesday to protest against Bush and the Iraq war, but authorities have warned children not to join in any protests.

"Our very strong message to school kids and to their parents is that tomorrow is a school day -- you're expected to be at school," said NSW deputy premier John Watkins.

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