The first martyr of anti-globalisation is made

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Just in front of the smashed windows of the Banca Nazionale de Lavoro lay the remnants of a photocopier, some files and several computer screens strewn across the Corso Torino. Glass crunched underfoot and smoke belched from the rubbish dumpsters that had been overturned and set on fire. On the wall of the bank the message from the protesters rang out loud and clear: "Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs".

Through the deafening wail of police sirens a mobile phone rang.

"Someone's dead," said Cristina, from Venice.

We all froze. "It's near here, let's go!" she said. We ran, tripping over plastic bottles.

Rounding the corner into the tree-lined piazza we could see more than 100 policemen and carabinieri in full riot gear forming a circle. Photographers were being shoved back by a baton-wielding policeman. Beyond this human cordon a lifeless form lay sprawled on the ground, draped with a white blood-stained sheet: the first martyr of the growing anti-globalisation movement.

Earlier, as I dashed across the immense green square towards Brignole railway station, a phalanx of police vans roared past heading at speed in the same direction.

After a morning of light skirmishes, peaceful sit-ins and noisy stand-offs, the first word of serious trouble had come at around 2pm from Brignole, one of Genoa's two main stations. Passing under the railway tunnel, I got the first glimpse of the destruction.

A petrol pump smashed to bits, a Coca-Cola machine standing on its head. Burnt car carcasses and smouldering skip-bins. The air was rancid with black smoke and tear gas. "It's the Black Block," one heavily tatooed Milanese youth said, as he helped himself to a yoghurt from a smashed-up food store. Looters had left a trail of soft-drink bottles and biscuits behind them.

The helicopters buzzing overhead and clouds of gas led me to a long narrow road, flanking the railway lines.

Minutes earlier, the police had charged a mob of demonstrators. Members of the Tute Bianche (White Overalls), who had been forced back several hundred yards, were spluttering and wiping their streaming eyes. The huge plexi-glass shields being held by the front line lay in tatters on the road. Several thousand of protesters were backed up the hill. The carabinieri, Italy's paramilitary police, who were defending this little patch of Battlefield Genoa, became jittery. They manoeuvred their big armoured vehicles clumsily.

As we moved closer, the police vans came under a hail of stones and petrol bombs. The force of the attack pushed the police vans into a corner. It was the Black Block again. The shadowy, balaclava-clad figures had appeared suddenly and caught the police off guard.

We scrambled backwards as it became impossible to see for the tear gas. We sought refuge in the atrium of a modest apartment building, crouching in the dark on the marble stairs.

"I'm no hero. I just came to help provide first-aid care and they shot tear gas at my little trolley. They broke it up," a local woman said. She said her name was Cinzia as she bathed eyes and washed faces.

For the next two hours we saw running battles and baton charges, water cannon and tear gas. Huge, blue armoured personnel carriers thundered at high speed past the glass door. It shook loudly.

At times, the protesters seemed to be getting the better of things and pelted police with every object they could find.

An old man huddled in our group was following events on a tiny radio, but then the mobile rang and we knew a young man, still unidentified at that stage, had died.

According to a Reuters photographer who witnessed the incident, the youth had picked up a red fire extinguisher from the ground. He raised the fire extinguisher with two hands above his head, facing the back of the jeep, its rear window shattered.

Then two shots rang out from inside the jeep, and the youth fell to the ground. The jeep drove backwards over the sprawled torso, then changed gears and sped away.

By the time we got there, police doctors were examining the body. They were pulling back the sheet to reveal long, spindly legs in blue trousers and Doc Martens boots, a vest top and a black balaclava. Protesters began chanting: "Murderers,'' and "Shame''. Then they began to clap loudly and shout slowly: "Bravo!'' Some began to hurl objects at the riot police. Others overturned rubbish containers, which they set alight.

The tension rose further after a young volunteer doctor called Claudia, who had given the protester cardiac massage, said she thought he had probably died instantly. Another medic who had examined him looked shattered.

Tension rose still further as the body was taken away. Bins were burnt and activists hurled stones. Police retreated back down to another piazza where a bank had been destroyed. Part of the automatic teller machine dangled limply out of its recess. Green glass made a crunchy carpet.

Then 20 cars, vans and unmarked cars began moving in my direction. Darting away I saw why. About a dozen black-clad figures were laying waste to a tobacconist. This was Genoa on the first day of the G8 summit.

Earlier, as helicopters hovered overhead, the city's main squares were black with hundreds of police vans, blue armoured personnel carriers and tanks with bulldozer attachments. Ranks of helmeted carabinieri, equipped with riot shields, batons, tear gas and their own masks, loitered ready for action. About 15,000 men and women were brought in to defend 2.5 square kilometres.

In Piazzo Carignano the anti-globalisation group Attac demonstrated just a few minutes' walk from the red zone. They were close enough for a group of shirtless men to sprint down the hill and taunt the police gathered behind a high wire fence.

Just round the corner at another entrance to the red zone a second confrontation was taking place. Off Via Malta a group of several hundred protesters gathered, waving banners and chanting. Missiles began to fly.

Carabinieri massed four deep began an advance. Stamping and banging their batons rhythmically on their riot shields they moved slowly in a phalanx, pushing the protesters up one street then the next.

While the forces were deployed to defend the Red Zone full-scale battles broke out some distance away. In Corso Torino the carabinieri resorted to throwing back the stones and glass bottles hurled at them. Several police were hit and at least three had to be dragged from the front line. As the tear gas swirled through the air at least two police were seen throwing up after inhaling the chemicals. Often the rioters seemed impervious to the police attacks. One stripped off all his clothes and stood naked beside the burning wreckage of the police van, taunting the carabinieri.

By 5pm, police reinforcements had begun to push the anarchists further east and away from the red zone. Police pulled one protester from the mob and beat him with their batons as on-lookers screamed: " basta" [enough]. The policemen were forced to retreat into a cul-de-sac protected by their riot shields.

As we fled for the safety of the press centre the battle of Genoa had left one protester dead, one carabinieri and one young woman protester seriously injured, another 50 activists and police in hospital, and at least 70 under arrest.

On the agenda

World economy: Leaders issued a statement saying the world economy was slowing more than expected and expressed concern over high, volatile oil prices, but maintained there was a good basis for growth in Britain. Behind the scenes the US is pressing Europe to cut interest rates to boost growth.

Environment: George Bush is under attack from European leaders over his abandonment of the Kyoto treaty on reducing pollution.

Aids and health: The leaders announced a $2bn global health fund to fight Aids, TB and malaria and are expected to agree on lowering the cost of Aids drugs for developing countries.

Missile defence: Russia and France lead opposition to President Bush's plan for a nuclear missile defence shield. The plan has Italy's backing even though it abrogates the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The other countries are non-committal.

World affairs: Conflicts in the Middle East and the Balkans will be the focus of talks over lunch today. Russia's Vladimir Putin joins the summit.

American free trade: The US is looking to accelerate progress towards a Free Trade Area of the Americas. Canada, Japan and Britain are in support but France is opposed. Germany, Italy and Russia are non-committal.

Fraud: The leaders are looking to strengthen co-operation in fighting fraud and money laundering.

Summit communiqué: The final working session is due to take place at 9.30am tomorrow, with an agreement on the summit communiqué.

Comments