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The diary of a Genoa protester

Anna Bragga, the Green party's spokesperson for globalisation, gives Guardian Unlimited her personal account of what happened at the Genoa G8 summit

Monday July 23, 2001

Thursday July 19

We arrived in Turin on Thursday, and set off the following afternoon for Genoa. It was an arduous journey as trains going into Genoa had been cancelled and neither myself nor my Green companion, Mark Harrison, speak Italian.

Two train journeys later we finally arrived on the outskirts of Genoa. Some friends were made along the way - both Brits and Italians - including the very excitable, beer swilling Fabio who kept shouting "bastardos" whenever he spotted policemen at train stations.

We moved closer to the centre of Genoa on buses and on foot. Eventually at around 8pm a Swiss couple offered us (eight in total) a lift into town in their van. With so many roads blocked by wire fencing and other barricades, and heavy police patrol everywhere, it felt as if we were entering a war zone.

Forced to climb up narrow winding roads through the hills, we finally rolled out the van at around 10pm and set off on foot to find the convergence centre. The town centre had an eerie silence about it - no traffic apart from the odd police car and small groups of protesters.

Exhausted, we stumbled upon the Martin Luther King convergence centre where an Italian TV station was interviewing an elderly gentlemen. There were no Greens in sight and no real accommodation to speak of - some people were lying on the concrete floor in sleeping bags and silver foil. Eventually Fabio, Mark and I made it to a sports stadium where we slept (in great discomfort) on a covered grass pitch between a group of tents.

Saturday July 21

By now I was chomping at the bit - impatient to get to the demonstrations while Mark was still taking a very leisurely laissez-faire attitude. It was the day of the Drop The Debt march and I knew we had missed the beginning which started at 12pm.

A bus took us back into the centre where we joined people streaming into the route of the march on foot. Within minutes this road, the Corso Italia, became a battlefield.

An army of protesters waving mainly red flags and shouting "assassini" (murderers in Italian - in response to the shooting of a protester the day before) appeared in front of us while a group of Italian Greens emerged behind us - with a big anti-GMO banner and a large cow in tow.

Mark thrust the Hi 8 into my hands and I began filming. Meanwhile it appeared that the Greens were trying to talk the anarchists in front into calming down. It didn't seem to be having much effect however and suddenly clouds of tear gas appeared in the sky behind us. I darted out of the crowds, pulling Mark with me and made for the convergence centre - by now empty save some abandoned stalls and a few cars.

The crowds scattered a little but most seemed unperturbed by the choking gas. It wasn't until the tear gas bombing got heavier that things went crazy. Suddenly there seemed nowhere safe to escape the gas and the bombs seemed to be flying from every corner. I became suspicious of some guys I saw throwing tear gas bombs across the empty centre.... were these agents provocateurs?

At this point violence erupted in the Corso Italia. Cars were set on fire and overturned, shop windows smashed and at least one bank was set on fire. Mark had by now climbed up a concrete storage building (about 15ft high) to film the scenes on the streets.

He said: "Riot police started to assemble at the side of the road to the far left of the convergence centre, while protesters opposite them began dragging railings to build a barricade and were arming themselves with anything they could find. They began hurling missiles at the police then suddenly thick black smoke appeared from one of the buildings.

"Meanwhile two helicopters encircling the scene were dropping tear gas on the protesters. It was like watching a tide go in and out. Everytime the tear gas billowed out, the crowds retreated. When it ebbed, they moved forward. Most were masked to protect themselves from the effects of the gas.

"At one stage everyone that was standing on the roof watching the scenes nearly fell off because a tear gas cannister landed on it. And in the chaos and confusion people started falling about. Police were throwing more and more gas cannisters. This enraged the protesters who ran and picked them up and threw them back at the police."

As the police seemed to start amassing for a final thrust towards the protesters, we collected our belongings and sought refuge in a nearby pebbled beach.

People boats were amassing in the harbour. Within moments of settling to down to appear as innocent sunbathers, we found ourselves surrounded by armed and helmeted police.

Mark was convinced they were about to charge and baton us but I disagreed and suggested we remain seated on a nearby ledge while most people ran for cover further along the coast.

Some of us raised our arms to signal peace and sought to appear non-violent. The cops ran past us chasing fleeing protesters. They cornered them on the edge of a rocky coastline where the protesters could move no further apart from in the sea. Bravely the protesters chanted shouts of "assassini" and jumped up and down and waved defiantly.

There was an eerie silence when the police stopped and seemed confused as to what action to take next. To our amazement they backed off and walked away.

Mark says: "People in civilian clothes were with police pointing out protesters. I was surprised at this as some of these I recognised as the cannister throwing people from earlier".

As we sat on the beach in a state of shock and disbelief, locals came up to us and exchanged their stories, clearly upset at being split up from their friends, and still suffering from the effects of the heavy tear gas and excessive military-style actions of the police.

We walked to the road and saw armoured vehicles pass by clearly trying to intimidate passers-by. All around was the smell of burning and tear gas lingering in the air, debris lay strewn across the Corso Italia. Protest graffiti was sprawled across the fronts of many shops and buildings.

Special report

Related articles
23.07.2001: Riots force review of summits
23.07.2001: The weekend war
23.07.2001: 'This movement is unstoppable'

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