Comedians lead protests at Sydney gathering of world leaders

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The Independent Online

A team from a satirical television show has made a laughing-stock of the huge security operation surrounding this week's Apec meeting – by driving a fake motorcade with a Canadian flag through two police checkpoints and brandishing "insecurity" passes.

The team from ABC Television's The Chaser were stopped only after one of their number emerged from a car dressed as Osama bin Laden, in a long false beard and flowing robes. They were already well inside the so-called "restricted zone" designed to protect Apec's 21 world leaders, including President George Bush.

The furious commissioner of New South Wales Police, Andrew Scipione, said yesterday that, with snipers deployed all over Sydney, the 11 people staging the stunt could have been shot. As it was, they were arrested, and face a possible prison sentence of up to six months, under draconian regulations introduced just for the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit.

Their motorcade – featuring two vans, a hire car and two motorcycles – was one of dozens crossing the city yesterday, and came within a block of President Bush's hotel. The occupants of the official-looking black vehicles, decked out with Canadian flags, were wearing passes that carried the words "Insecurity", "Joke" and "Chasers ABC".

The show's executive producer, Julian Morrow, who was among those arrested, denied that the prank was irresponsible. "I wouldn't think so," he said. "Lucky it was us and not al-Qa'ida."

Mr Scipione, who is in charge of the £65m Apec security operation, the biggest ever mounted in Australia, said: "I'm very angry ... It was a very dangerous stunt ... They [the snipers] weren't there for show, they mean business."

With the 11 miscreants bailed to appear in court next month, other members of The Chaser team attempted to repeat the stunt yesterday – but this time using cardboard cut-outs of black cars. They were questioned by police and then let go.

As leaders of the Apec nations, which include China, Japan and Russia, prepared to hold their annual summit this weekend, several demonstrations were staged. In Hyde Park, in Sydney city centre, dozens of people held a "Bums for Bush" protest, baring their bottoms in unison. They also performed a "21 Bum Salute" to the 21 member nations, with their bottoms spelling out the words "Bums not Bombs".

After rain dispersed the protesters, they spilled on to the nearby street, where they held up an official motorcade. Scuffles broke out as police pushed the demonstrators – carrying placards that stated "Sign Kyoto, you wankers" – out of the way. Australia and the US have not signed the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emissions.

Mr Bush made a few more of his famous gaffes yesterday, thanking the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, for "being such a fine host of the Opec summit". He also referred to a visit by Mr Howard last year to "Austrian troops" in Iraq.

As he left the stage, Mr Bush – who also mispronounced the name of the terrorist grouping, Jemaah Islamiyah – headed off the wrong way, and had to be redirected to the correct exit by Mr Howard.