Rostock reels from violence at anti-globalisation protest

Germany was trying to recover from the worst G8 summit violence for six years yesterday after thousands of masked anti-globalisation protesters went on the rampage in the port city of Rostock pelting police with firebombs and stones and torching cars in clashes that injured over 900 people.

Police said that 433 officers were injured, 33 of them seriously, in what they described as "unprecedented violence" that erupted after a peaceful anti-globalisation demonstration in Rostock on Saturday four days before the summit of G8 leaders in nearby Baltic resort of Heiligendamm.

Protest organisers said at least 520 demonstrators had been injured in the clashes that began late in the afternoon after one masked youth jumped on to a stage at a closing rally and told the crowd " We have to bring war into this demonstration - we'll achieve nothing through peaceful means." Running battles between some 2,000 black clad protesters wearing ski-balaclavas to conceal their identities and 5,000 baton-wielding riot police using tear gas and water cannon ensued. At least three cars were set on fire. Police were pelted with Molotov cocktails and cobblestones ripped up from the streets and ferried to a " front line" in stolen supermarket trolleys.

Late on Saturday a pall of black smoke caused by burning vehicles hung over the harbour district of Rostock. "It brought back memories of Genoa," wrote Germany's Der Spiegel magazine yesterday in a reference to the G8 summit violence in the Italian port city in 2001 in which one protester was killed during two days of clashes between police and demonstrators.

Police and organisers of the peaceful anti-G8 protest said Germany's so-called "Autonomen" - a radical group of anarchist protesters whose members wear black clothes and masks - had instigated the violence.

The "Autonomen" - meaning the autonomous ones - have spearheaded violent protest in Germany for over 20 years hijacking mainly left-wing demonstrations against nuclear weapons, globalisation and other perceived capitalist or imperialist crimes.

Police said that many "Autonomen" arrested after Saturday's clashes came from countries including Austria, Bulgaria, Japan, Sweden, France and Russia and that tear gas canisters found during a post riot clean-up bore writing in Cyrillic [Russian] script. They said the violence appeared to have been co-ordinated internationally.

Organisers of the peaceful protests who had worked closely with police before and during Saturday's demonstration said they had been taken completely by surprise by the sudden explosion of violence. "We congratulated the police on their restraint - it was all peaceful and we thought nothing more would happen," said Manfred Stenner, one of the organisers.

The violence occurred despite a massive police security operation in advance of the 2-day G8 summit hosted by Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, which begins on Wednesday. Police have searched the homes of scores of potentially violent anti-globalisation protesters and even revived an East German Stasi practice of taking highly controversial "scent probes" from suspects to enable them to be identified by police dogs.

The summit venue - the 19th century Baltic seaside resort town of Heiligendamm - has been sealed by a seven-mile fence topped with barbed wire. To seaward, the waters have been sealed off by a buoyed net and will be patrolled by warships and helicopters. Several more demonstrations are planned during the summit. More than 16,000 police will be on duty.

Werner Raetz, a campaigner with Attac, one of the largest anti-globalisation groups yesterday condemned the violence outright: "There is no justification for these attacks," he said. "Both the police and the protesters should try and get this emotional situation under control," he added.

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