POLICE fired tear gas and rubber bullets in Geneva on Saturday to weed out violent demonstrators against a meeting of top world trade officials, but hooded “black bloc” activists caused damage before 14 were arrested.
The protesters set fire to at least four cars, broke shop windows and committed other violent acts, police spokesman Patrick Puhl said.
Police Chief Monica Bonfati said officers arrested four looters in addition to the protesters. No injuries to police or protesters were reported.
The clashes occurred during a march by demonstrators protesting a meeting of the World Trade Organization scheduled to start today.
Bonfati told Swiss television TSR that police were able at the beginning of the demonstration to identify about 200 members of the black bloc – violent elements that join other demonstrations to cause damage. She said they were spread out along the route and police had to separate them from the other protesters.
Eric Grandjean, another police spokesman, said black bloc protesters threw fire bombs at officers.
“They also damaged 12 businesses, including a bank at Place Bel-Air and a jewelry shop and a hotel on the Quai des Bergues,” he said.
Besides the burned cars, 15 other vehicles, including three buses, were damaged.
Police said the 3,000 protesters included three distinct groups of troublemakers who broke away to attack cars and hotel and shop windows, then rejoined the march, pretending to be peaceful. Organizers claimed there were about 5,000 protesters in total.
The group Anti-WTO Coordination said it “regretted being unable to finish the demonstration and deliver the planned speeches.”
It said a few protesters had used the demonstration for their own ends.
Nevertheless, it said, “the international and local mobilization is a success” and it condemned “unreservedly all police repression violating democratic rights.”
WTO opponents claim the agreements produced by the body foster the growth of wealth among corporations at the expense of farmers, workers and others at the low end of the economy.
Swiss officials refused entry at Geneva Airport on Friday night to three South Koreans who wanted to come into Geneva because Swiss security specialists judged them to be capable of violence, Puhl said, noting other countries had previously barred the three for the same reason.
The WTO called the meeting of its 153 members to examine major issues at a time when global exports are falling rapidly and the WTO’s Doha liberalization round is limping into its ninth year.
Instead of sensitive tariff and subsidy negotiations, the conference running today through Wednesday will focus on the big picture – stabilizing and rejuvenating commerce in the face of protectionism, unemployment and exporting of jobs.