Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cops Riot Against G8/20 Demonstrations in Toronto While Africa is Marginalized From Discussions

Cops Riot Against G8/20 Demonstrations in Toronto While Africa Is Marginalized From Discussions

Hundreds arrested in police sweeps amid refusal of imperialist states to discuss plight of developing countries

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Over 600 people were arrested in the streets of downtown Toronto on June 26-27 while demonstrating against the capitalist economic policies of the imperialist states who met under the banner of the G8 and G20. The G8 Summit was held on Muskoka Island in Huntsville, Ontario near Toronto. The G20 Summit was held in the city and was cordoned off with a large security fence along with 20,000 Canadian police from various agencies throughout the region.

Police attacked the tens of thousands of protestors with teargas, rubber bullets and batons on June 26 while they marched peacefully through the streets in opposition to the worsening crisis impacting workers in the industrialized states and the so-called Third World. In response to the police violence, hundreds of activists broke away from the main marches and struck out against symbols of capitalist exploitation by breaking windows and setting at least two police cars alight.

The city of Toronto spent nearly $1 billion on security measures aimed at keeping protesters well away from the location of the G20 proceedings at the downtown convention center. Nonetheless, this did not prevent mass demonstrations and damage to large-scale corporate outlets.

On June 26, tens of thousands of demonstrators representing a myriad of social movements fighting against environmental destruction, rights for Native people, solidarity with Palestine, workers’ rights and for an end to police misconduct marched down University Ave. from Queen’s Park under the theme: “put people before banks.” After moving west on Queen St., the marchers headed back north on Spadina Ave. when they were met by a large police corridor preventing them from moving forward despite the fact that this was the announced route of the demonstration.

When the demonstrators refused to back down, police began to push against the crowd using teargas and rubber bullets. Hundreds of demonstrators then began to smash windows of major capitalist corporations as well as police cruisers.

One demonstrator, Sid Ryan, from the Ontario Federation of Labour, said that “It wasn’t the workers of the world that caused the financial crisis. We don’t want to see a transfer of wealth from the public sector to the private sector.” (AFP, June 26)

Chants of “the people united, will never be defeated,” echoed throughout the crowd from the steelworkers who had a large contingent in the march. Banners were in evidence that read “Long Live Socialism” and Scrap the summits.”

The demonstrations were reinforced all day Saturday by delegations of trade unionists and students. About 30 busloads of workers from across the province of Ontario arrived at the scene including representatives from Oxfam, Greenpeace and the Canadian Federation of Students and the Council of Canadians.

Jeff Atkinson, a spokesman for the Canadian Labour Congress told the AFP that “We don’t want G20 countries to cut stimulus spending until jobs recover.” Kumi Naidoo, who is the International Director of Greenpeace said that if the G20 countries could spend billions on bailing out the banks then why could money not be allocated to support the unemployed in the industrial states. (AFP, June 26)

Liana Salvador, a student activist, said that she was $50,000 in debt from expenses incurred from pursuing her education. “I’m an ordinary student whose parents taught me that knowledge is power, but whose government says education is just expensive. Do only the rich deserve to learn?”

Salvador continued by chanting out “One billion for education, not fortification.” Ontario Federation of Labour leader Sid Ryan said that “Let’s come together and unite the labour movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement…and we can move mountains.”

Although the police denied using rubber bullets, they did admit to using other weapons including tear gas. A police spokeswoman said that officers had fired “muzzle blasts—or individual applications of tear gas—that are used typically against people at close range.

On Sunday demonstrations continued in the downtown area. Police surrounded and detained over 500 people who had gathered to engage in a demonstration and speak out. Many within the crowd were targeted and arrested.

Also the police invaded the University of Toronto and arrested 70 students on suspicion of plotting to foment disorder. Jesse Rosenfeld, a freelance reporter who has written for the British Guardian newspaper, was hit by the police and arrested. The incident was witnessed by Canadian Television journalists.

Toronto police and Canadian governmental officials blamed the violence on the demonstrators claiming that many were bent on causing trouble. Police Chief Bill Blair told a press conference that “We have never seen that level of wanton criminality, vandalism and destruction on our streets. There are limits to free speech, and these limits really end when it infringes on the rights and safety of others.” (Guardian, UK, June 27)

However, one demonstrator responded by pointing out that “This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. The corporations are the ones hurting people.” (Toronto Star, June 27)

By early Sunday, June 27, public outrage at the use of excessive force by the police was mounting. In scenes broadcast live over Canadian television, a riot police officer was shown viciously beating an unarmed demonstrator.

Stephan Christoff, a Montreal journalist, said he was beaten by riot police with a plastic-coated metal baton. Steve Paikin, who works for TV Ontario, witnessed the assault on the Guardian journalist saying that “As I was escorted away from the demonstration, I saw two officers hold a journalist. A third punched him in the stomach. The man collapsed. Then the third officer drove his elbow into the man’s back.” (Guardian, UK, June 27)

According to Nathalie Des Rosiers, the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, “Civil liberties are in rough shape today. We will have to have some accountability for what is going on.” (New York Times, June 28)

As a result of the disturbances, the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team were sent away to play their scheduled game because of the police blockade of downtown. Public criticism grew as police were allowed to stop and search anyone walking in the vicinity of the security fence surrounding the convention center area. Civil rights lawyers have said that the regulations imposed during the demonstrations may violate the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms, which does provide for freedom of assembly.

On June 28 police officials said that they would seek to prosecute at least 400 people the authorities claim were responsible for the destruction of property and attacks on police vehicles. The security fence which kept protestors at bay began to be dismantled as public transportation schedules were resumed at the conclusion of the G20 Summit.

Africa Marginalized at G8 and G20 Summits

Although seven African states were invited to the G8 Summit on Muskoka Island, their influence was negligible. Leaders from Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Malawi, Ethiopia, Egypt and Algeria were present along with others from Colombia, Jamaica and Haiti.

Leaders of the imperialist states only wanted to discuss issues such as efforts to curb drug trafficking and totally neglected the need to eliminate poverty in the developing world. Five years ago in Scotland, the G20 Summit promised to provide $50 billion to assist Africa with debt relief. However, these promises have not been fulfilled amid growing poverty resulting from the world economic crisis and its impact on the Continent.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan was reported to have returned home after he was apparently disinvited to the G20. Jonathan, who attended the gathering of the G8 in Huntsville, had thought he was scheduled to participate in the G20 proceeding in Toronto.

A report in the Nigeria Punch newspaper indicates that Jonathan thought he would be allowed to participate in the G20 meeting, but was only slated to appear in the sideline talks at the G8, whose membership is restricted to the North American, European and Japanese imperialists and Russia. The G20 has only one official African member and that is the Republic of South Africa. All other participants are merely observers.

According to Punch, “Although Nigeria is regarded as one of the emerging economic power houses, Jonathan returned to Abuja (the political capital) on Friday, on the eve of the summit. (Nigeria Punch, June 27)

In an interview with the Canadian Globe & Mail newspaper, Jonathan made his case for African involvement in the G20. “Africa should be well represented in the G20 because we are talking about the global village. What affects one nation invariably affects the others. If Africans nations have challenges, the West also pays for it.” (Globe & Mail, June 26)

Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, who attended the G20 Summit representing the only African state that has full membership in the body, said in a speech that “Sub-Saharan Africa has remained resilient despite the financial crisis. Most countries in the region were able to protect pro-poor and pro-growth public spending.” (South African Government Document, June 28)

Zuma also stated that “However, more than a third of countries in Sub-Sahara Africa remain on the periphery of international capital markets and thus dependent on official forms of external financing from the IMF and multilateral banks. That is why we call for this forum to take the voice of the developing world seriously in the development and implementation of new financial standards and rules.”

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