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G8 Summit, St Petersburg, Russia - On the ground 3

Oscar Beard | 01.08.2006 02:03 | G8 Russia 2006 | Globalisation | Repression | London | World

Saturday 15 July. My English contacts were nowhere to be found in the camp. After some searching and chasing I contacted them by phone only to find they were holed-up somewhere in the city, too fearful of a complete police lockdown of Kirov stadium, which would put a serious damper on any actions they were planning.

And they were right. Saturday was the first official day of protest against the G8 greedheads. After interviewing influential No-Global leader and European Parliamentarian Vittorio Agnoletto I went looking for breakfast and to check the gate.

Agnoletto called the convergence centre “a prison” and seemed incredibly angry with the Russian authorities attempt to halt any kind of public protest against the G8.

And sure enough there they all were. The prison guards. I counted 17 buses of police, a rough estimate of 250 riot resources, police vans and cars, and at least two military trucks.

All for some 150 people. During the night and early morning more activists had fled fearing imprisonment or a total raid on the stadium. People entering the stadium late at night were being subjected to threatening searches by drunken police officers, totally gone on vodka one person told this journalist. The Estonian anarchists from had to bribe their way back in, some 700 rubels for eight of them.

As I ate cheap cakes and drank coffee it was obvious any attempt to protest was not going to happen. For one the police had the upper hand on anyone inside the stadium. All they had to do was turn one key, lock one gate, and the stadium was secure. Plus the various groups of varying activists did not seem interested in any way of finding common ground and work together on that. No, they were with the global majority - as so many others I have seen in these last six years of covering such events – they concentrate on their differences. The divisions were as apparent as the eight-foot high green security gate guarded at that time by some 200 policemen and women, many already swinging batons and riot helmets.

Around 11am on a bright and hot Saturday, as a meeting of 100 activists took place in the stadium, the communists attempted to go ahead with their march. A call from my contact in Russia Associated Press said the demonstration last seconds before the police grabbed, wrestled, beat and arrested everyone.

I tried to contact the UK people, only to realise I was still on Latvia time and not Russian time. No time to meet. I headed back to the stadium secretly filming the camera shy police and military. A Russian woman ran up to me yelling something about “many police”.

I was subjected to another search re-entering the stadium but became impatient with the officer when I saw a large group of protestors heading towards the stadium gate. He seemed to understand, the search was quick and he let me through the gate.

Police lined the entire security gate, with hordes standing and waiting in rows behind, batons at the ready. Hiding behind one small café to the right was a military troop carrier trucks, the same as I had seen the previous day on the streets of St Petersburg full of boy soldiers, every one of them young enough to be my son.

The protestors, 100 at most, marched towards the stadium gates. Several senior police officers entered through the gate and read the riot act via megaphone. The basic gist was the demonstration was considered illegal and the protestors would not be allowed to pass the stadium gates. A woman leaned towards me and pulled the freshly lit cigarette from my lips and stamped on it as it hit the floor.

“No smoking,” she said harshly.

“Why?” I asked, “Are you flammable?”

She didn’t understand. I could see it in her eyes.

Masked anarchists drowned out the officer’s orders with chants and jeers but some communists demanded they stop so the police could have their say. And that was it. No one was going anywhere. The police outnumbered the demonstrators four-to-one. And the mainstream media seemed more intent on photographing this journalists protection helmet. Again, more very serious looking people with stern faces and cameras began taking my photograph, especially after I directed my camera on several police officers who seemed to be getting a little too much gratification out of swinging their batons.

Some anarchists attempted to rattle the gate, but the stadium owner stepped in and blocked their way demanding them not to break it. Protestors sat down, the Estonians donned red tape across their mouths and sheets of paper saying “Free To Protest”, “Are You Listening” and “Can U Hear Us”, and the police got very bored.

The demonstration dispersed after an hour and people returned for free food. The scene was odd as demonstrators, police, mainstream media and soldiers all queued for soup and a fatty rice that filled the stomach quick.

As the white night returned the Ukrainians chilled out with some spontaneous East European rap and poetry. This was interrupted by one of the Estonians: “The police are beating someone outside and they might raid the stadium.”

Everyone froze. The police were drunk again. Anything could happen. I jumped up with my camera, switched it to night vision and went to scour the scene. But I found nothing except several bored soldiers and medics wandering around inside the stadium gates. No one knew anything, although I didn’t ask the soldiers. It seemed like a bad idea.

After the panic things calmed again and the Ukrainians and Russians retired to a tent to sing some more. It appears Russians have a song for every occasion. And singing is a big thing. But it all got lost when the Ukrainians started singing Beatles songs.

Oscar Beard
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