Genoa summit: Minister accuses Genoa police of over-reacting

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The Independent Online

Peter Hain, the Minister for Europe, criticised the Italian Police yesterday for "over-reacting" to the protests which scarred the G8 summit in Genoa while the ill-fated talks ended with uncertainty hanging over any future meetings of world leaders.

Mr Hain's unexpected attack embarrassed Tony Blair because it was in sharp contrast to the Prime Minister's praise for the Italian authorities. Mr Blair had said earlier: "To criticise the Italian police and the Italian authorities for working to make sure the security of the summit is right is, to me, to turn the world upside down."

As the leaders of the world's richest nations left, Genoa was counting the cost of two days of concerted rioting which saw one Italian demonstrator shot dead by police, 430 injured and a multimillion-pound bill to clean up the city. In a violent conclusion, police raided the base of a Genoa protest group, arresting 92 people, including seven Britons. 61 of those arrested in the raid were taken to hospital.

Two Britons remained in hospital last night, one suffering from serious chest wounds, according to British diplomats.

In Bonn, where environment ministers were struggling to save the troubled Kyoto climate change protocol from collapse, a deal was left in the balance because leaders failed to seal an agreement in Genoa.

Canada, Japan and Australia are demanding further concessions to ease their path of reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to be causing global warming.

The three countries, close allies of the US which rejected the protocol in March, were using the desperation for a deal of the nations who support the treaty, led by the EU, to extract as tough a bargain as possible.

Interviewed on Sky? Television, Mr Hain said: "The way in which Genoa was handled has to be looked at and some serious questions posed and answered. The action of the police shooting and killing somebody, you can't defend that."

The Minister for Europe said the "voice of the people outside of the institutions" had to be heard. "You can't defend what has been done in Genoa, either the balaclava demonstrators out there to basically trash the place and bust a skull if they can, or the overreaction from the police," he said. He said that any future G8 summits should probably be "modest occasions."

Mr Hain, a leading figure in the anti-apartheid protests of the 1960s and 1970s, was not in Genoa but his comments were picked up by Italian news agencies and could cause tension between Britain and Italy.

Downing Street declined to comment directly on Mr Hain's remarks, saying the Prime Minister had also defended the right of people to protest peacefully.

Mr Blair had earlier argued that shelving meetings because of the threat of violence would be to "stand the whole principle of democracy on its head".

Speaking in Genoa, the Prime Minister showed his frustration that G8 initiatives were overshadowed by the rioting. He declared "the world has gone mad" when the ratio of media coverage of the protests to that of a proposal to ease problems in Africa had been ten to one in favour of the riots.

The delegates had unveiled plans to develop a partnership with Africa and devote $1.3bn (£909m) to the fight against Aids and other diseases, a proposal designed to convince the Third World that it, too, could benefit from globalisation.

The eight leaders left the Italian port in the knowledge that this was almost certainly the last G8 summit of its kind. Canada, the hosts of the next get-together, announced it will be held in the Rocky Mountain retreat of Kananaskis in Alberta, away from any big city. Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, said he plans a smaller-scale event with the number of delegates cut from 2,000 to 350.

Mr Blair rejected the idea that the UK delegation, which he said was 27-strong, should be reduced but the French president, Jacques Chirac, said "we must return to the initial spirit of the summit, becoming more modest. We need permanent consultation with civil society and non-governmental organisations – I understand their concerns. We can no longer act as if no-one else has an opinion on the changing world."

On the Kyoto protocol there was no disguising the differences between Europe and the US. The toughest wording the leaders could agree on was: "While there is currently disagreement on the Kyoto Protocol and its ratification, we are committed to working intensively together to meet our common objective." The leaders agreed to a further meeting in Russia in two year's time, but Mr Blair and Mr Chirac both put a positive gloss on the developments, saying there were signs that Canada and Japan were closer to agreeing.

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