Protesters return to Genoa for G8 riot trial

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The Independent Online

The barricades, helicopters and massed riot police returned to the Italian city of Genoa yesterday as hundreds of demonstrators protested at the start of the trial of 26 people accused of violence during the G8 summit in the city in July 2001.

The barricades, helicopters and massed riot police returned to the Italian city of Genoa yesterday as hundreds of demonstrators protested at the start of the trial of 26 people accused of violence during the G8 summit in the city in July 2001.

The trial is the first act of legal reckoning for a summit notorious for overkill security measures, ferocious and apparently random police violence, and startling acts of vandalism by some protesters.

Images of carabinieri beating bewildered anti-globalisation demonstrators were flashed around the world. But some protesters were also filmed running amok, and one was shot dead as he was apparently about to hurl a fire extinguisher through the wind- screen of a police Land Rover.

Demonstrators demanding debt relief for impoverished nations and the reining in of predatory multinationals poured into Genoa 30 months ago as world leaders prepared to meet there. Most were peaceful, but a minority ­ self-described as the "Black Bloc" and frequently described as anarchists in media reports but widely claimed to be government-sponsored agents provocateurs ­ went on the rampage, smashing shop windows and cash machines and setting hundreds of cars on fire.

Armed police in overwhelming numbers launched attacks on demonstrators, including a raid on a school that led to several protesters, some of them British, being taken to hospital.

The trial that opened yesterday is the first attempt by the authorities to identify and punish protesters responsible for the violence. The 26, all Italian, are charged with vandalism, looting, resisting arrest, carrying explosive materials and robbery. If found guilty, they could be jailed for between eight and 15 years. Yesterday an attempt by defence lawyers to have the trial shifted to Turin on the grounds that there was legitimate suspicion the judges were biased was rejected by a tribunal in Genoa.

The trial's approach has revived bitter memories of the summit and reignited arguments about the rights and wrongs. Vittorio Agnoletto, who became briefly famous during the summit as spokesman for the Genoa Social Forum, said of the 26 on trial: "They are not the people really responsible for the violence during the G8.

"Those really responsible are the Black Bloc ­ who were used during the demonstrations to repress the pacifist movement ­ [and] the government and the chief of police. The violent fringe including the Black Bloc were external to the movement ... and were allowed to rampage undisturbed, committing vandalism ... then allowed to depart by the forces of law and order without any problem. Today none of them is standing trial."

Claudio Scajola, the cabinet minister responsible for the security arrangements at the summit, said on the eve of the trial that the event "was certainly a very sad chapter, where violence played the leading role... However, a trial is starting, we all have faith in justice".

He added: "Those who devastated Genoa should not pass themselves off as victims."

The authorities took stringent steps yesterday to prevent a repeat of 2001's mayhem, restricting attendance in court to 100 and with a total of 750 police keeping demonstrators from the building. A small crowd shouted support for those on trial, hoisting a banner reading "We will not abandon you". One student leader said: "Those on trial are 26 people like us... 26 scapegoats."

More than 30 police and carabinieri are being investigated for their part in the violence. None has yet been committed for trial.

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