Monday, March 30, 2009

Tens of Thousands Demonstrate Outside the G20 Summit in London,0,7112513.story

From the Los Angeles Times

London economic protest draws 35,000

In a message for the G-20 summit in London, protesters call for sustainable development, help for the poor and punishment for those responsible for the economic crisis. More protests are planned.

By Henry Chu and Janet Stobart
March 29, 2009

Reporting from London — Thousands of people marched through London on Saturday to demand punishment for bankers, power to the poor and protection of the environment at a protest meant as a wake-up call to world leaders gathering here this week for an economic summit.

It was one of the largest demonstrations this city has seen since massive rallies six years ago against the invasion of Iraq. The turnout, estimated at 35,000, reflected the depth of popular anger over Britain's economic crash and the perceived greed of bankers and other high-fliers whom many people blame for it.

Beneath a sea of banners, marchers representing trade unions, charities, environmental groups and churches snaked through the streets to converge on Hyde Park. Placards called for "People Before Profits" and "Jobs, Not Bombs," in a nation suffering its worst unemployment in more than a decade.

"It's people that make changes, not governments," said Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, one of Britain's largest unions. "There should be more investment in public services and housing, not less, [and] greater help to get people back into work."

The leaders of the Group of 20 nations, representing the world's largest developed and emerging economies, will meet here Thursday to discuss ways to pull the global economy out of its hole. The G-20 meeting will be the first major summit for President Obama, who is hugely popular in Europe but is having trouble reaching an agreement with European leaders on how best to combat the global recession.

In Berlin, raucous protests drew thousands of demonstrators Saturday, and hundreds congregated in Paris. About 6,000 students, union members and others marched in Rome to protest a meeting of the Group of 8 industrial nations' labor ministers there. The London demonstration attracted participants from across Europe, such as 11.11.11, an umbrella organization of Belgian volunteer groups.

"We want governments to give a voice to poorer countries," said Benedikt Raets, who runs the organization's website. "The poorest countries are paying the highest price."

Saturday's protest here offered a foretaste of demonstrations planned for this week -- and of the security nightmare they present for London police. Several activist organizations have scheduled events Wednesday, when many of the G-20 leaders are set to arrive, and some underground anarchist groups have threatened to storm buildings in the financial district.

All leave has been canceled for police officers in order to mount a full-scale security operation that could cost more than $10 million. Anti-terrorist and intelligence agencies are also on high alert.

But critics accuse the police of overstating the threat of violence to justify heavy-handed tactics. Last week, influential members of Parliament expressed concern that the police have bullied and harassed peaceful demonstrators, including filming them and invoking anti-terrorism laws against them.

"I'm worried about the spectacular smear stories that the police are putting out in advance of the day," said Peter McDonald, an activist with the environmental organization Climate Camp.

Previously, "there have been similar tactics used to get everyone a little hysterical in the run-up, and they've never come true in practice," he said.

McDonald agreed that both the global economy and the global climate are in urgent need of attention, but he said that the recovery of one should not worsen the other.

"Telling people to consume more to get the economy back on track, in an age of climate change, is frankly obscene," he said. "There's a very widespread sense that things can't go on the way they were before. There's an opportunity for something new to emerge from this." The group is planning to hold its annual camp Wednesday in the city center, with the slogan "Nature doesn't do bailouts!"

Many activists agree that the crisis offers perhaps the best chance in years to get across their pleas for greater social justice and environmental vigilance, brushed aside in the rush to buy stocks and SUVs during the boom times.

"All the cards are in our favor now. The true nature of the economic system is revealed; the true quality of political leadership is revealed," said Mark Barrett of G-20 Meltdown, a left-wing group that embraces noisy street theater to spread its gospel of decentralization and anti-capitalism.

It is organizing a "Financial Fools' Day" protest Wednesday outside the Bank of England, and has called on members to descend on the summit venue and knock on visiting leaders' and officials' hotel-room doors in the middle of the night to disrupt their sleep.

"We have a chance to get some really great ideas into the public realm," Barrett said. "And it's mainly, completely, because of the financial crisis."

That openness was sorely tested last week, however, when one G-20 Meltdown leader, Chris Knight, an anthropology professor at the University of East London, told a radio show that bankers could wind up "hanging from lampposts" and "things could get nasty" if change did not come to Britain. The university has suspended him pending an investigation.

G20 demonstrators march in London

Tens of thousands of people have marched through London demanding action on poverty, climate change and jobs, ahead of next week's G20 summit.

The Put People First alliance of 150 charities and unions walked from Embankment to Hyde Park for a rally.

Speakers called on G20 leaders to pursue a new kind of global justice.

Police estimate 35,000 marchers took part in the event. Its organisers say people wanted the chance to air their views peacefully.

Protesters described a "carnival-like atmosphere" with brass bands, piercing whistles and stereos blasting music as the slow-paced procession weaved through the streets.

Police said one man was arrested during the march for being drunk and disorderly.

Unite union, general secretary Derek Simpson said: "I think it's an important message but whether it will get through to the people meeting in London I don't know. Anyone who sees the numbers on this march should realise how important it is."

Families with children in pushchairs were among those marching along the 4.2-mile route under banners with slogans including 'capitalists - you are the crisis' and 'justice for the world's poor'.

As protesters passed the heavily-policed gates of Downing Street, there were chants and jeers with one person shouting "enjoy the overtime".

BBC News reporter Mario Cacciottolo said people were clearly angry, but the atmosphere was not tense.

Milton McKenzie, 73, from Essex, told him: "How the hell can we have a situation here in Britain where we have people out of work and the bankers just cream it off and are helped by the government."


World leaders will meet next week in London to discuss measures to tackle the downturn.

The G20 countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the US and the EU.

Italian trade unionist Nicoli Nicolosi, who had travelled from Rome, said: "We are here to try and make a better world and protest against the G20."

Glen Tarman, chairman of the Put People First co-ordination team, said: "An exciting alliance has been born today. We will keep up the pressure on world leaders and the UK government to address our demands and put people first."

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said he wanted to see G20 leaders agree a plan of action to deal with the financial downturn.

"Where I hope we will see a consensus emerge is in the recognition that unless they act together, then the problems are only going to get worse.

"This, unlike any other recession, is a recession right across the world."

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband said it was important for the G20 to make commitments on helping the environment as well as the economy.

"There are some people who will say you can either tackle the economic crisis or the climate crisis.

"But the truth is that both come together with this idea of a Green New Deal, of investing in the jobs of the future, which are going to be in the green industries of the future."

The director of the the Adam Smith Institute, Dr Eamonn Butler, said governments have caused the economic crisis.

"The world market economy is actually a very moral system that raised a billion people out of poverty in the last 10 years," he said.

A huge security operation is under way in the run-up to the G20 summit, at which world leaders will discuss the global financial crisis and other issues.

There have been fears that banks and other financial institutions could be the focus for violent protests.

Commander Simon O'Brien, one of the senior command team in charge of policing security, said: "It's fair to say that this [the march] is one of the largest, one of the most challenging and one of the most complicated operations we have delivered.

"G20 is attracting a significant amount of interest from protest groups. There is an almost unprecedented level of activity going on."

Saturday's march will be followed by a series of protests on Wednesday and Thursday by a variety of coalitions and groups campaigning on a range of subjects, from poverty, inequality and jobs to war, climate change and capitalism.

Berlin march

Ahead of the summit, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been visiting a number of countries seeking support.

On Friday, during a visit to Chile, he said people should not be "cynical" about what could be achieved at next week's summit, saying he was optimistic about the likely outcome.

However, in an interview with Saturday's Financial Times, German Chancellor Angela Merkel dampened expectations of a significant breakthrough.

She said one meeting would not be enough to solve the economic crisis and finish building a new structure for global markets.

In Berlin, thousands of protesters have also taken to the streets with a message to the G20 leaders: "We won't pay for your crisis".

Another march took place in the city of Frankfurt. The demonstrations attracted as many as 20,000 people.

Banners accused the Germany government of being too willing to spend billions bailing out financial institutions and too slow to protect ordinary workers, the BBC's Steve Rosenberg said from Berlin.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/28 17:19:48 GMT

March 29, 2009

Obama Will Face a Defiant World on Foreign Visit

New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama is facing challenges to American power on multiple fronts as he prepares for his first trip overseas since taking office, with the nation’s economic woes emboldening allies and adversaries alike.

Despite his immense popularity around the world, Mr. Obama will confront resentment over American-style capitalism and resistance to his economic prescriptions when he lands in London on Tuesday for the Group of 20 summit meeting of industrial and emerging market nations plus the European Union.

The president will not even try to overcome NATO’s unwillingness to provide more troops in Afghanistan when he goes on later in the week to meet with the military alliance.

He seems unlikely to return home with any more to show for his attempts to open a dialogue with Iran’s leaders, who have, so far, responded with tough words, albeit not tough enough to persuade Russia to support the United States in tougher sanctions against Tehran. And he will be tested in face-to-face meetings by the leaders of China and Russia, who have been pondering the degree to which the power of the United States to dominate global affairs may be ebbing.

Mr. Obama is unlikely to push for specific commitments from other countries on stimulus spending to bolster their own economies, White House officials acknowledged Saturday in a teleconference call, despite the fact that administration officials would like to see European countries, in particular, increase their spending to try to prompt a global economic recovery.

“Nobody is asking any country to come to London to commit to do more right now,” said Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. Instead, world leaders at the meeting will try to “do whatever is necessary to restore global growth,” Mr. Froman said.

The challenges stem in part from lingering unhappiness around the world at the way the Bush administration used American power. But they have been made more intense by the sense in many capitals that the United States is no longer in any position to dictate to other nations what types of economic policies to pursue — or to impose its will more generally as it intensifies the war in Afghanistan and extracts itself from Iraq.

“There is a direct challenge under way to the paradigms that America has been trying to sell to the rest of the world,” said Eswar S. Prasad, a former China division chief at the International Monetary Fund. The American banking collapse, which precipitated the global meltdown, has led to a fundamental rethinking of the American way as a model for the rest of the world. Yet even as his presence stirs opposition to particular American policies, Mr. Obama is being welcomed by many Europeans as an embodiment of American ideals.

In Prague, where Mr. Obama will stop later in the week, local officials are installing a hot line for residents to find out about street closings. In Strasbourg, France, site of a NATO meeting, protesters are planning an “international resistance camp” with antiwar actions designed to press Mr. Obama to get American troops out of Afghanistan. In Istanbul, his last stop, workers are polishing up the Hagia Sophia basilica-cum-mosque-cum-museum for the expected visit.

“The rest of the world is yearning for him,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist. “On the one hand, they’ll all be criticizing him, and criticizing the American model. But they all want to hear that he does have a miracle to deliver.”

The quandary has left senior advisers to Mr. Obama scrambling to come up with a way for him to project both American power and the new cooperative international model that his aides have been promising.

Mr. Obama will try to show confidence that his stimulus and economic program will work, administration officials said, while conceding that it may take time. He will say that he has put all the pieces in place to fix the American economy, while acknowledging that in a global system nations cannot put up walls to protect their individual economies.

Robert D. Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, said the president “must demonstrate to the world that he understands that it’s not just about saving ourselves.”

And Mr. Obama must try to do all of that in the middle of a global recession for which most of the world blames the United States. “The U.S. brand name has clearly suffered from this crisis, and the rest of the world is no longer willing to sit quietly and be lectured by the United States on how they should conduct economic policy,” Mr. Rogoff said.

A senior Obama administration official acknowledged that it would be harder for Mr. Obama to exhort other countries to adopt the American model. But Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said Saturday in the conference call that Mr. Obama “is going to listen in London, as well as to lead.”

“Many of the things we’ve done in the past week demonstrate that America is leading by example,” he said.

In the past, American officials traveled to India, Brazil, China and South Africa and lectured government officials on the need for open markets, free trade and deregulation. But now some of those very policies — particularly deregulation — are viewed as the culprits for the recent economic collapse.

“Emerging markets now think they can do what they want without hectoring from the United States,” said Mr. Prasad, the former monetary fund official.

Compounding the problem for Mr. Obama is that the route that he has chosen to lead the United States out of the mess — heavy government spending — is not available to many other countries. European governments, for instance, are far more lukewarm about enormous stimulus programs because they already have strong social safety nets, and more fears of inflation, than does the United States.

So when Mr. Obama meets with other world leaders in London, he will be confronting a philosophical divide, with the United States on the defensive not just on economic issues like trade and financial regulation but also on a variety of national security and diplomatic matters.

After he leaves London, Mr. Obama will go to the French-German border for a NATO meeting at a time when European governments, under pressure from their populations, are looking for the exit doors in Afghanistan even as the United States sends more troops and money.

Administration officials had initially said they hoped to get more troop contributions at the NATO meeting; now they do not even talk about securing more troops from the Europeans, in a tacit acknowledgment that the forces will not be coming.

“I hope that Afghanistan will not be Obama’s war, because it should be owned by all of us,” said NATO’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

But there are already twice as many American troops as NATO troops in Afghanistan, and “Europe will never be able to match the numbers of the Americans in Afghanistan,” Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. The NATO summit meeting, he said, “will not be about troop contributions.”

In Prague, Mr. Obama will confront an Eastern Europe nervous about Russian attempts to reassert itself in an area that Moscow views as its backyard. Mr. Obama has taken pains to reassure Russia that his administration will tread carefully regarding Bush administration plans to locate a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Yet in placating Russia, Mr. Obama has raised hackles in Poland, where officials seek closer ties to the United States.

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