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Street Clashes Greet the 'Toxic Texan'

Swedish police on high alert as thousands protest against US stance on defence and climate change
Swedish police on high alert as thousands protest against US stance on defence and climate change

Thousands of flag-waving demonstrators took to the streets of Gothenburg last night after police clashed with activists suspected of planning violence at the EU-US summit in the Swedish city.

People carry a banner reading "Bush not welcome" during a protest of enviromental and anti globalization activists in downtown Goteborg, Sweden, on Thursday, June 14, 2001. President Bush is in Goteborg to meet European leaders at an EU-US summit. (AP Photo/Adam Butler)

As President George Bush and European leaders admitted that they disagreed over the Kyoto global warming treaty, a dozen masked youths were arrested after throwing bottles and cobblestones outside a blockaded high school.

It was the worst trouble yet on Mr Bush's five-country maiden European tour, but he saw little of it.

Protesters at the school were allowed to leave after being searched, but two police cars were burned and security was tight. There was a heavy police presence around the sprawling conference venue, which was sealed off behind double rows of 6ft high metal fences. Police helicopters patrolled overhead.

Traffic ground to a halt and the motorway from the airport into the city was closed as evening fell. Banners read "Yankee go home".

However, most of the trouble was minor and protests remained good-natured In one eye-catching stunt a group of young men and women bared their buttocks outside the hotel where the man that European environmentalists have dubbed the "Toxic Texan" was staying.

Some businesses, including McDonald's, boarded up their windows, but protests were nowhere near the scale of those carried out by anti-globalisation activists at the world trade talks in Seattle and Prague, or at last December's EU summit in Nice.

For most of the day Sweden's second city seemed largely oblivious to the goings-on. However, police said they were braced for more trouble today when the EU begins its own two-day summit, marking the end of Sweden's six-month stint at holding the union's rotating presidency.

Yesterday, more than one cause attracted protesters. Several thousand Iranians marched to demand that Washington and Brussels crack down on the regime of President Mohammad Khatami.

US plans for a missile defence shield also attracted fierce criticism. "People don't like Bush and his plans for a Star Wars," one Swedish teenager said. "We want him to stop."

In consensus-conscious Sweden, it was natural for police to hold talks with the protesters before the demonstrations got under way, but there were complaints last night that agreements had been broken.

"Our deal with the police was to keep horses, dogs and riot police away from the streets," Helena Tagesson, of the French-based anti-globalisation group Attac, said. "They did not stick to the promise and of course I'm mad."

Tension mounted well before the summit began when five Danes were arrested on Tuesday with an improvised fire-bomb launcher. Danish police also raided a building in Copenhagen used by activists preparing for Gothenburg, and found materials for making petrol bombs and pipe bombs.

Despite low expectations, there was disappointment when the summit communique made clear that the US would not back down from its refusal to support the Kyoto agreement.

"George Bush has shown his blatant disregard for the rest of the world's attempts to save the climate," Michel Raquet, a Greenpeace spokesman said.

But there was praise for the Europeans for standing firm. Friends of the Earth said: "European governments must work with Japan, Russia and other allies to ensure it is ratified as soon as possible."

"President Bush's decision to ignore scientific warnings and world opinion on global climate change is a total disgrace. It means business as usual for the planet's biggest polluter."

The group added: "Millions of people around the globe will suffer the consequences of an increasingly unstable climate. If the US is not prepared to join the global fight against climate change it should keep away from next month's international talks on climate in Germany."




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