media whore | 13.06.2007 17:47 | G8 Germany 2007
but this one is ok and can cheer us up after the daily mail bollocks
By Patrick Barkham
If you have watched any television coverage of the protests outside this year's G8 you've probably seen plenty of drama. Last weekend there were black-clad hoodies hurling rocks at police. This week there have been water canons fired, missiles thrown and protesters sent hurtling to the floor by police boots and batons.
But these sporadic outbursts of violence don't reflect the overall character of the antiG8 protests which have, so far, been remarkably good natured.
I've stood and watched 24 hours of the biggest demonstrations outside the G8 in the past three days. Obviously my experience of the protests is not comprehensive - mini demonstrations are breaking out all over the place within a 20-mile radius of the G8 and I have to dash back to the media centre to file this blog - but I think I've seen a representative slice of the major protests.
The protesters are like a cross between a medieval army, a modern music festival crowd and performance theatre. They straggle across fields and then break into song, dance or aerobics when confronted by lines of riot police. Almost all of them have been admirably peaceful so far.
Contrary to press reports, I've not witnessed any rocks or bricks or dangerous missiles thrown by protesters. (Grand total of missiles thrown that I have seen: one plastic bottle.) I'm not denying it's happened but it has been rare, so far.
In case you think I'm getting all cuddly with the protesters, from what I've seen, the police operation has also been fairly intelligent and certainly effective (although I wasn't in Germany last Saturday when reports of police brutality were widespread after rioting in Rostock). At the protests I've attended, officers have talked to the protesters and haven't needlessly provoked them.
You wouldn't mess with these cops, however. They are enormous, and formidably equipped with bulky riot uniforms, batons, guns and leather gloves. A female officer batted me away from police lines today with the ease of swatting a fly.
From what I've seen, however, there has certainly been more violence used on the police side. The authorities would say that is their job - to stop the G8 being disrupted. So they tend to be the ones trying to force the issue, charging at protesters and beating them with batons to move them back from the roads around the resort.
They also use the water canons fairly liberally and if you think water is some kind of fluffy anti-riot option, it is not, especially when laced with pepper spray. The Guardian's photographer Graeme Robertson was hit in the face and chest this afternoon and was in agony (and he's a big man who can take care of himself). The weapon leaves burns on the skin and dozens of protesters - and another photographer this afternoon - have needed medical treatment.
So far, at least, moments of confrontation remain relatively rare and are soon over. Beyond the lines where police meet protesters, there are ordinary people enjoying the sunshine in the German countryside: overheated police sitting on their riot shields and downing energy drinks or playing doing crosswords in their vans; protesters lying on the grass reading newspapers and chatting with friends.
This afternoon, just as police were trying a show of force by landing nine helicopters in a field right by 3,000 protesters, a German Green MP cycled up. He wheeled his bike through the line of police riot shields and went to chat to the protesters. He was given a polite round of applause. Maybe one of the G8 leaders should try meeting their people.