Pittsburgh is bracing for trouble as activists prepare to rally against the leaders of the world’s top economies, a day after riot police fought running battles with protesters.
A diverse range of groups plan protests in the eastern US city, but anarchists have pledged to disrupt the G20 summit, which is tasked with finalising a blueprint for economic growth.
Riot officers fired pepper spray and non-lethal rounds on Thursday after a 1,000-strong crowd, led by black-clad hardliners wearing goggles, helmets and masks and brandishing anti-capitalist banners, tried to trek to the conference venue.
“Up to now there was so much fear – people were told that it would be dangerous and violent at the march on Thursday but it wasn’t as bad as people thought it would be,” said Peter Shell, president of the Thomas Merton Centre, which advocates change through peaceful struggle.
“This march will be much better. We have a permit. We confront the policies of the G20, not the police. We’re a different kind of protest,” said Shell.
On Friday, marchers will set off from six separate starting points in Pittsburgh and descend on a park in the city, near the convention centre hosting the summit.
Further clashes were reported overnight on the University of Pittsburgh campus in nearby Oakland with riot police sending rounds of tear gas into a crowd of fleeing students estimated to be 1,000 strong.
Tear gas, rubber bullets
Witnesses quoted on a live protest blog on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website said students had poured out onto the campus after protesters pushed a flaming rubbish dumpster into a police car earlier in the evening.
“The sad part is these students are now wrapped into this. They came out to see the destruction that happened in their town and now they are having to deal with the police who are trying to restore law and order,” said Jason Shoup, quoted as a bystander.
The G20 is a forum for the world’s biggest developed and emerging economies and its meetings are a magnet for anti-capitalists opposed to what they see as an undemocratic body promoting inhumane free market policies.
Police said they arrested 15 people on Thursday, although protesters said they were tracking 23 arrests. This was before the overnight clashes.
While the anarchists drew inspiration from previous protests at global summits, they failed to trigger large-scale disturbances.
“It’s very badly organised by a bunch of young kids,” said Pittsburgh resident and demonstrator Fred Marshall.
Wide range of protest groups
“It was inevitable that we were going to be dispersed. Their ideas are good, but their voices weren’t heard because they were so loosely organised.
“This isn’t Europe, we don’t do things like they do there,” he said, citing the G20 riots that rocked London six months ago.
One man was killed in the London protests. The victim, Ian Tomlinson 47, was filmed being hit by a police officer with a baton as he walked through the protest zone in the City of London
Shell said Friday’s march would attract not only a bigger crowd but also a different one from that which tried to disrupt the G20 on Thursday.
Seventy-one groups were expected to take part, including China’s banned Falun Gong religious group, women’s anti-war group Code Pink, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Students for Justice in Palestine.
Although the demographics of the protests might be different on Thursday and Friday, they both carry the same message: that human rights count for more than profit.
“We want our government and the G20 to focus less on free trade agreements for the benefit of multinational corporations and more on good jobs and education for the benefit of ordinary people,” said Joyce Wagner of Iraq Veterans Against the War.