Thursday, August 16, 2007

APEC Protest Group Swells

Activists and unions expect more than 10,000 to protest during APEC. The main student protester organisation, the Stop Bush Coalition, had originally estimated that 5000 people would March on Saturday, September 8.

The APEC Taskforce expects 5000 summit-related delegates to attend the summit, while there will be a contingent of more than 5000 police and defence force in Sydney during Leaders' Week from September 2 to 9.

A meeting on Monday night which included the Fire Brigade Employees Union and the Maritime Union of Australia decided to change the route of the protest to avoid a direct confrontation with police, according to an attendee.

The protest group originally told police that the march would start at Town Hall, in George Street, go down to Circular Quay and then stop outside the Opera House for a festival.

The Opera House falls within an APEC restricted area and police have said entry will only be allowed to accredited individuals.

It is understood the unions favoured a more conservative route that would avoid a direct confrontation with police, according to an attendee at the event.

The protesters now intend to march from Town Hall, in George Street, to outside the US Consulate in Martin Place - in the APEC declared area - before having a festival in Hyde Park, according to an attendee at the meeting.

Police have extraordinary powers to stop and search individuals in the declared area during the APEC summit.

Protest organisers are frustrated with police from the APEC command who have yet to respond formally to their Schedule One despite the document being submitted in May.

"We're going to put every effort to get over 10,000 marchers," said the attendee. "I suspect you will see people also having smaller protests there on the Friday.''

The protesters are also angry with police who accuse them of planning violent protest during the summit.

"The police have been characterising the demonstrators who will be protesting outside APEC as having a violent agenda and of wanting a confrontation with police," said Jim Casey from the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union.

"At best police are misinformed and at worse they are trying to paint us as something we're not. We're extremely clear that this will be a peaceful demonstration.'' reported last week that a training video used by riot police feature members of the MUA and implied they would take part in violent protest.

Mr Casey said the new route would reduce the chance of a direct confrontation with police.

"It was simply felt that police were being hypersensitive and the Martin Place was seen as more inoffensive proposal," he said. "There's real concern because we have an open and public commitment to engage in peaceful demonstration on the eighth of September.''

The head of the police APEC command, Peter Lennon, said in a July interview he expected violent protest.

"I think there will be a violent protest but my appeal to the people is, is there any other way that we can just sort this out whereby we do it in a mature fashion, where we allocate you the space where you can stand on that corner and walk on that street and you can have your protest and there will be media because protesters gather media," he said

Mr Lennon also said at the time that protesters would not be able to reach the Opera House.

"Getting to the Opera House I think there are going to be some difficulties because they're getting close to a venue where these leaders are," he said.

While Mr Lennon said he expected violent protest he also admitted there was no black list of banned protesters because they had not identified anyone dangerous enough.

"If we found someone who we would have to exclude, then we would have to go and inform that person,'' he said. "But we have not come across any people that come anywhere near that."

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