Postcards from Barcelona: The leaders joke, the activists protest

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Inside the Palace of Pedralbes, leaders of 30 countries sat down to a lavish lunch to mark a milestone in the reunification of Europe.

On the streets of Barcelona, riot police beat back hundreds of anti-globalisation demonstrators and arrested dozens more as the tide of protest made itself felt, once again, at an international summit.

Facing a twin threat from protesters and Basque separatists, the Spanish authorities took no chances yesterday, deploying 8,500 police, warships, anti-aircraft missiles and aerial surveillance planes.

As it turned out, the threat was more low-tech. Clashes occurred in the Ramblas avenue near the Liceu theatre when up to 500 protesters tried to break a police cordon. Police, who outnumbered demonstrators by about three to one, charged with their batons.

Europe's great and good were not disturbed, however. The summit and the lunch, hosted by King Juan Carlos, were attended by leaders, foreign and finance ministers from the 15 EU nations, and from the 13 which are applying to join, plus the presidents of Yugoslavia and Montenegro. Top of the agenda was a plan designed to make the EU the most competitive economic bloc in the world by 2010.

The Spanish Defence Minister, Federico Trillo, rejected criticisms of the security operation. "This is not a besieged city," he said. "It is a safe city."