France's Yellow Vests Join Forces With Anti-G7 Protesters in Violent Rallies

Published August 25th, 2019 - 11:12 GMT
French security personnel fire a water canon during a protest in the city of Bayonne. (AFP/ File Photo)
French security personnel fire a water canon during a protest in the city of Bayonne. (AFP/ File Photo)
Riot police used water cannons and tear gas on Saturday to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne.

French riot police used water cannons and tear gas on Saturday to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne, near the resort of Biarritz where President Emmanuel Macron and G7 nation allies were meeting for a three-day summit. 

Thousands of anti-globalisation activists, Basque separatists and 'yellow vest' protesters walked from the French town of Hendaye to Irun in Spain, waving banners calling for climate action, gay rights and a fairer economic model.    

A police helicopter circled as dozens of protesters, some hurling stones, shouted slogans and abuse at the lines of police in the Basque town's historic centre.

The protesters shouted 'Everybody hates the police' and 'anti, anti anti-capitalists' as the mood took a darker turn from peaceful protests earlier in the day in an authorised march on the French-Spanish border.  

A few protesters threw rocks at police, but the crowd in Bayonne was largely peaceful, with some activists dancing. Police responded with warning shots and then water cannon. 

The incident took place near a bridge barricaded by police as part of extensive security measures around the G7 summit meeting in Biarritz that opens Saturday.

Earlier in the day thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully from the area to the Spanish border to demand more action against climate change and economic inequality.

'It's more money for the rich and nothing for the poor. We see the Amazonian forests burning and the Arctic melting. The leaders will hear us,' he said.

Four police officers were lightly wounded on Friday after protesters fired a homemade mortar near the anti-G7 gathering in Hendaye. 

Police arrested 17 people for hiding their faces.

Activists in the counter-summit villages have this week united from France, the Basque region straddling the French-Spanish border and beyond to confront a rich-poor divide they say is growing due to the cynicism of world leaders.

'The counter-G7 demonstration is in this Basque region and we want people to see we are part of it,' said Alfredo Akuna, a 46-year-old engineer from San Sebastia¡n in northern Spain who wore traditional Basque clothing.

'We're involved in many movements including anti-capitalism and anti-fascism so it's important to be here to show that.'  

Several of the world's leaders including Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have already arrived in France to discuss the environment this weekend.

From today through to Monday the politicians will talk about issues including the struggling global economy as well as the Amazon fires, which host French President Emmanuel Macron has put the top of the agenda.

This morning hundreds of protesters marched while carrying boats in a reference to migrants crossing the Mediterranean and some planned to cross into Spain from the French border village town of Hendaye. 

Since Monday, anti-capitalist activists, environmentalists and other anti-globalisation groups have been flocking to southwestern France for a counter-summit which they insist will be peaceful.

Biarritz is a popular tourist destination that would normally be basking in its annual summer boom, but with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders flying in for three days of talks, the resort was on lockdown.

'Heads of state: act now, Amazonia is burning!' read one banner as the huge crowd rallied in the French coastal town of Hendaye, the slogan referring to the wildfires ravaging the world's largest rainforest.

Waving thousands of flags, they marched across the Bidassoa River heading for the Spanish town of Irun, chanting slogans and playing drums. 

Some held cardboard signs with pictures of Earth, protesting against climate policies they blame on the G7 countries, while some held orange dinghies in reference to migrants.

Others were seen holding pictures of the faces of world leaders including Donald Trump, who arrived at the event at Saturday lunchtime. 

Among the crowd were even a group dressed in traditional Basque shepherd costumes, with red, white and green Basque flags as far as the eye could see.

The rally ended shortly before 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) with no major incidents, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

But authorities remain on high alert, with Biarritz on lockdown and police deployed en masse in the neighbouring town of Bayonne as well to keep protesters at bay.

Overnight, 17 people were arrested and four police lightly injured when clashed erupted in Urrugne near the Spanish border some 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the resort.

'I want to call for calm and for unity,' French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation just hours before the official opening of the summit at which world leaders were to address the Amazon crisis along with other divisive global issues.

'We won't be able to face all these big challenges if we don't act together,' he said.

One of the major topics of conversation at the event is set to be the current fires in the Amazon. Angela Merkel has said the G7 leaders 'cannot be silent' in the face of fires sweeping parts of Brazil, and will call for everything to be done to halt them. 

Mrs Merkel said in her weekly video message: 'Emmanuel Macron is right - our house is burning, and we cannot be silent.'

She said the leaders of the world's top economic powers are 'shaken' by the fires and that they will discuss 'how we can support and help there, and send a clear call that everything must be done so that the rainforest stops burning'.

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Amid a series of policy and trade disagreements, which she did not address explicitly, Mrs Merkel said that 'talking to each other is always better than about each other - and the G7 is an excellent opportunity for that'.

Mrs Merkel also said that impeding a trade deal between the European Union and South American trade bloc Mercosur will not help reduce the destruction of rainforest in Brazil. 

The G7 event has emptied out the town of Biarritz famed for its beach on the last week of the summer break. Mr Macron has has downplayed any expectations of a unified front from the leaders of the G7 democracies.

Yesterday police clashed with protesters as security was tightened in southern France in preparation for the G7 summit.    

The airport and train station at the beach resort of Biarritz were closing down Friday afternoon, with residents who are used to packed busy streets at the height of holiday season saying the streets are now empty. 

The nations in attendance include the United States, Germany, Japan, Britain, France, Canada and Italy. 

Police arrested anti-G7 protesters near the site of the summit, with members of the 4th Generation Protection and Intervention Section (SPI4G) and Republican Security Companies (CRS) seen patrolling off the resort's coast. 

Authorities could be seen breaking up a makeshift barricade erected by demonstrators at a tent camp near Hendaye, France, as protesters clashed with police ahead of the summit.

French military were also seen performing a de-mining sweep in the seaside town's beaches, and officers on motorcycles patrolled the streets.

Earlier this week divers from the CRS were seen in the waters by Biarritz.

On the French-Spanish border, officers from both countries were seen checking vehicles, and riot officers were spotted patrolling outside the Hotel du Palais - a venue for the upcoming summit.

Anti-G7 protesters were seen being detained by French National police during a march near a tent camp near Hendaye, France today. 

US protesters have set up camp on both sides of the border between France and Spain ahead of this year's summit of the world's major industrialized nations, where President Donald Trump will join French President Emmanuel Macron in Biarritz. 

The city centre is almost deserted, and the seaside around the casino where leaders will meet is under lockdown.

Cars are thoroughly checked and tourists can no longer access their usual haunts.  

The summit will mark Boris Johnson's first as Prime Minister, and he will have to walk a tightrope of diplomacy as he tries to persuade Donald Tusk and Donald Trump to give him a Brexit boost. 

The trip to France will represent Mr Johnson's debut foray on the world stage and his first face-to-face meeting with the US President since he took office is expected to dominate. 

The Prime Minister will be keen to cement his strong relationship with Mr Trump and seek agreement on a timetable for striking a post-Brexit trade deal when the pair sit down for talks, potentially on Sunday. 

But the premier will have to tread carefully to avoid a potential row with Mr Trump after they adopted different positions in the run up to the summit on whether Russia should be allowed back into the G7.

Mr Trump has called for Vladimir Putin to be allowed to return after Moscow was booted out of the G8 in 2014 over its illegal annexation of Crimea - but Mr Johnson is ice cold on the idea. 

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is also expected to sit down with Mr Tusk just days after the pair clashed over the PM's demands to delete the backstop from the Brexit deal. 

Mr Tusk responded to the call by suggesting Mr Johnson was being unrealistic and dishonest in his approach. 

But Angela Merkel's and Emmanuel Macrons' subsequent decision to give the UK 30 days to come up with alternatives to the backstop will have raised Mr Johnson's hopes that he will be able to persuade Mr Tusk to change his position. 

The French President said today he would put pressure on the United States to sign a charter on protecting biodiversity at the G7 summit in Biarritz this weekend.

'We have talked about diversity. It is for the first time, at this G7, that we will sign a charter for biodiversity, we are committed to this, it will be signed by all,' he said in an interview with news website Konbini in the garden of his Elysee palace.

Asked whether this would include the United States, Macron said: 'That is the real question, we will see, I will put pressure. It will be signed by India, which is also very important.'

Macron said that climate, global warming and biodiversity would be at the heart of the G7 meeting but he also called on individual citizens to live and consume responsibly.

'We are all co-responsible for this, in the choices we make when we buy clothing and food, in our everyday behaviour when it comes to sorting (and recycling). The G7 is one thing, but our daily life is just as important,' he said.

In May, after meeting scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Macron said he would bring up the issue of biodiversity in talks within the G7.

He said at the time that his government would seek to increase the size of natural areas under protection and take tax and budget measures to support biodiversity. 

He added that he also wants the European Union to encourage financing of sustainable crops as part of its common agriculture policy.

IPBES - which groups 130 countries, including the United States, Russia and China - said in a report released in May that one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction due to humans' relentless pursuit of economic growth.

Roiled by months of anti-government protests this year, France has deployed more than 13,000 police to ensure protesters get nowhere near US President Donald Trump and other leaders. 

Authorities designated two counter-summit 'villages' and the morning protest about 19 miles from the summit. 

'The top capitalist leaders are here and we have to show them that the fight continues,' said Alain Missana, 48, an electrician wearing a yellow vest - symbol of the anti-government demonstrations that have been held in France for months.

This article has been adapted from its original source.



© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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