Australia fears violence at economic forum and Olympics

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The Independent Online

As if policing the world's biggest peacetime gathering - the Olympic Games - was not enough of a headache, Australia is facing the prospect of Seattle-style violence at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne next week by extremists who will then decamp to Sydney to disrupt the Games.

As if policing the world's biggest peacetime gathering - the Olympic Games - was not enough of a headache, Australia is facing the prospect of Seattle-style violence at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne next week by extremists who will then decamp to Sydney to disrupt the Games.

Thousands of campaigners are expected to descend on Melbourne a week tomorrow for the start of the three-day WEF, which will be attended by politicians, academics and business leaders, including the Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, and the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. The activists are planning to stage a mass blockade as a protest against economic globalisation.

The New South Wales Police Commissioner, Peter Ryan, who is in charge of Olympic security, said last week that information amassed by police and intelligence agencies suggested that violent demonstrations by anti-capitalist and anarchist groups were "a likelihood" in Sydney. "We are watching very carefully what is happening in Melbourne," he said.

With the eyes of the world on Australia in the run-up to the Games, authorities fear a repetition of clashes between protesters and riot police outside a World Trade Organisation meeting in the American city of Seattle last November. Similar violence marred a summit of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Washington in April.

The WEF Asia-Pacific conference - a regional offshoot of the annual talking shop in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos - ends on 13 September, two days before the Olympics begin. Police say the two high-profile events have been targeted by overseas activists, including, possibly, British anarchists who took part in last June's anti-capitalist riots in the City of London.

One senior NSW police officer said: "We know that a number of international activists who were directly associated with the planning and execution of the protest activity in Seattle are arriving to protest on global issues at the World Economic Forum in Melbourne." The choice of venue for the Melbourne gathering could hardly be more provocative: the Crown Casino, the country's biggest gambling premises, owned by Australia's wealthiest man, Kerry Packer.

The protest action is being coordinated by an organisation called S-11, a reference to the date on which the WEF convenes. Any doubt that S-11 shares a common cause with extremists in the US would be dispelled by a glance at its website, which proclaims: "Seattle + Washington = Melbourne." S-11, formed nine months ago, is a loose network of disparate groups united in opposition to multinational corporations and world economic institutions. Members communicate and organise, ironically, via the internet, that supreme instrument of globalisation.

They include principled campaigners - environmentalists, students and trade unionists seeking to highlight the issues of child labour and Third World poverty - as well as anarchists and professional demonstrators.

Fears that the latter will hijack the Melbourne protests have prompted Greenpeace and Melbourne University's student union to withdraw from S-11. The union president, Benjamin Cass, has since received dozens of hate e-mails, some calling him a Fascist, others wishing cancer upon him.

Police expect activists to travel on to Sydney in time for the opening ceremony of the Games. Surveillance of websites and e-mails suggests that they may try to block access to the Olympic stadium, stage sit-ins at competitions and attach themselves to Aboriginal demonstrations.

Melbourne police intend to deploy 3,000 officers and to erect a protective fence around the casino, which overlooks the River Yarra. S-11, whose slogan is "Shut down the WEF," says it is committed to non-violent direct action. On its website, it advises protesters to bring gas masks, helmets, kneepads, and a change of clothes to replace clothing contaminated with tear gas. It is promising to reveal the sightseeing locations to be visited by spouses of WEF delegates.

One of the main concerns voiced by visitors to S-11's e-mail chatroom is what to wear for the big event in Melbourne. One agonises: "The best shoes for a situation like the S-11 protest would be sporting/casual. All the sporting/casual shoes I know of are labelled with the name of some company that exploits its workers to gain profit for itself. What to do? My solution has been to spraypaint over labels and cut labels off in order not to advertise for greed."

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