Italy Seeks To Dodge Another Summit, As Europe Looks For Ways To Avoid Protests

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - European countries should establish a special continent-wide riot police force to handle violent anti-globalization protests at international summits in a firm but appropriate manner, Germany's top law and order politician suggested at the weekend.

Interior Minister Otto Schily's proposal came as the Italian government sought to avoid hosting another summit in the near future, concerned it may be marred by the type of violence that erupted at last month's Group of 8 summit in Genoa.

One rioter was killed and many demonstrators were hurt in Genoa. Amid protestors' allegations of torture and brutality, three key security officials were moved from their posts after the episode.

Shaken by the violence and the censure from abroad, the Italian government would like to avoid a repeat.

But the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, based in Rome, is scheduled to hold a biennial gathering in the capital in November.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi would like to see it relocated to another country.

By hosting the G-8 summit in Genoa, he told members of his Forza Italia party, Italy had "already done its bit."

Ministers are alarmed at warnings by some of the groups involved in the clashes in Genoa that they intend to protest again at the FAO summit.

FAO spokesman Nick Parsons said Monday discussions between the organization and Italian authorities were continuing, but for now the FAO was pressing on with plans for the November summit in Rome.

"We have to be realistic. We all saw the pictures from Genoa, so we're discussing these things with our Italian counterparts," he said by phone from Rome. "Nobody wants riots."

Parsons emphasized the differences between the planned FAO meeting and others targeted by protestors in recent times.

"The summit event that we have in mind has a very strong and large component of civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations and so on," he said.

"If people are demonstrating on behalf of the poor of the world, we're angry about it too. We're angry about the fact that there are 800 million hungry people out there. We're all on the same side here. We want to find the solutions," Parsons said.

'Traveling Rioters'

Since a World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle in 1999, international meetings around the world have been disrupted by demonstrators protesting under the broad umbrella of anti-globalization - their causes ranging from socialism to eliminating Third World debt to global warming to anarchy.

At each successive showing, the clashes grew tenser. At a European Union summit in Sweden in June, police were condemned first for being ill prepared and too lenient, and then for opening fire on rioters, injuring three.

The following month, the Genoa summit saw the first death, when a young policeman shot dead a 23-year-old Italian protestor who was attacking a lone police vehicle.

In an interview with a German paper Sunday, Schily proposed the creation of a specially trained European anti-riot police force, to act against "dangerous traveling rioters."

The force could cooperate internationally to de-escalate tensions where possible, and combat violence when necessary, he said.

Schily also wants European countries to cooperate by exchanging information on identified troublemakers and setting up a database to help prevent them from traveling to summits.

"One thing I am certain of is that we cannot let militant actions by violent persons dictate to us where and how nations' democratically elected representatives shall meet," he said. "Nations must absolutely stand their ground."

Schily's plan was welcomed by his Italian counterpart, Claudio Scajola, who agreed there was a need for more collaboration among European countries, "and a European anti-riot force that could manage the phenomenon with the contribution of local police."

Future meetings already targeted for demonstrations include an International Monetary Fund/World Bank AGM from Sept. 28-Oct. 4 in Washington DC, where a group called Anti-Capitalist Convergence will spearhead protests.

While anti-capitalism is the driving issue, others as diverse as missile defense, U.S. military intervention, debt relief and U.S. policy in Colombia, will bring demonstrators to the capital and onto the streets during the meeting.

Other forthcoming gatherings likely to see protests are a WTO meeting in Qatar from Nov. 5-9, and the next EU summit, in Belgium in December.

After the problems at Genoa, next year's G-8 summit, hosted by Canada, is being moved from Ottawa to a remote mountain retreat in a bid to discourage protests.

In a swipe at the West Sunday, Cuban leader Fidel Castro mocked the G-8 leaders for planning to meet in rural Alberta, saying they may soon have to hold their gatherings at the International Space Station to avoid protests.

Addressing Cuba's delegation to an international left-wing youth gathering in Algeria next week, Castro praised the anti-globalization protests, which he said proved "the growing consciousness of thousands and thousands of leaders and representatives of the whole world" that "imperialism" was threatening to destroy humanity.

See also:
G-8 Leaders, Protestors Consider Options After Genoa Violence (Jul 23, 2001)
EU Gov'ts Call For Strict Measures Against Anti-Global Protestors (Jun 18, 2001)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow