MELBOURNE, Australia -- Anti-globalisation campaigners claimed victory Monday after blockading a major international economic conference in a pitched battle with police in which scores of people were hurt.
Five police officers, two demonstrators and a casino employee were taken to hospital as violence erupted at the start of the three-day World Economic Forum (WEF) summit at Melbourne's Crown Casino.
One demonstrator had three front teeth knocked out by a mounted policeman wielding a truncheon to clear an escape route for a state premier, Richard Court of Western Australia, who was trapped for almost an hour in his vandalised car.
Television footage showed police charging with batons and numerous wounded and bloodied protesters, although it appeared the injuries were relatively minor.
Two young men, aged 17 and 21, were arrested for police assault.
One of the protest leaders, solicitor Pauline Spencer, later claimed police had used capsicum spray and batons, injuring more than 100 peaceful demonstrators with "inappropriate force."
"We had Victoria Police just storming with batons, thrashing people about the head ... breaking ribs, breaking hands," she claimed, adding that batons had been thrust into stomachs, breasts and genitals. Some demonstrators had been dragged away by the hair, she said.
More than 200 delegates -- almost a quarter of the 850 accredited to attend -- and a number of journalists were locked out of the summit by protesters with arms linked as police stood by apparently powerless to help.
Some of the delegates managed to get to the conference only after being ferried by boat or helicopter hours late into the casino complex, on the Yarra River's Southbank.
Organisers of the summit branded the demonstration an "abuse of democracy."
The WEF's Geneva-based public affairs director Charles McLean said one of the buses that failed to get delegates into the casino had its windows smashed by "street hooligans" and 200 delegates had been forced to turn back.
"This is not a case of civil disobedience, defiance of an unjust law," he said. "It is rather defiance of the very laws that protect free speech and free assembly -- the same laws that allow peaceful protest and dissent.
"I'm sure the people out there are more concerned with getting their faces on television. I wonder how many realise we are discussing in here many of the things which are supposed to concern them, such as corporate responsibility."
However, protest leaders claimed they were successful in blockading the conference.
"I think we can all claim victory tonight," a spokesman for the S11 (September 11) protest alliance, South Australian union leader Stephen Spence told reporters.
The blockade, by an army of Trotskyists, anarchists, students, gay rights activists, environmentalists and even Falun Gong supporters, grew from a few hundred in heavy early rain to perhaps eight or nine thousand by late afternoon, their ranks swelled by school children
They linked arms in a weaving chain that snaked half way around the casino complex, chanting demands for an end to economic rationalism, for the Western world to write off third world debt, and for Asian sweat shops to be closed.
But the demonstrators achieved at least one major success in persuading Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, a conference delegate, of the need to heed public opinion on globalisation.
"If policy makers think that they can ignore public opinion, I think we would be making a rather large mistake," he said.
"We can talk about the benefits of an open trading system, but let's remember that the last opportunity to put some detail on that was in Seattle and it was a failure."
The casino, owned by Australia's most conspicuous capitalist, billionaire media tycoon Kerry Packer, admitted losing millions of dollars because staff and customers had been scared off and has been closed for until further notice.
Deputy Police Commissioner Neil O'Loughlin said police had been successful in getting most delegates into the forum despite the best efforts of protesters to blockade it.
Five police had been injured, receiving back, arm and eye injuries.
"They have caused disruption to the city but not to the forum and it is unfortunate Melburnians have had to suffer the traffic problems and some property damage caused by the demonstrators," O'Loughlin told reporters inside the casino.
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