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Spain: Riot Police Seemingly Unprovoked in Attack on Protestors

Associated Press
June 24th, 2001

BARCELONA, Spain -- Riot police made what appeared to be an unprovoked attack Sunday on anti-globalization protesters gathered in a city park following a midday march down a main boulevard. At least 32 people were slightly injured and 19 were arrested.

Thousands of screaming and shouting demonstrators, some with small children, fled in panic as the police pushed into the crowd behind shields, wielding truncheons and firing blank gunshots.

''We raised our arms and shouted, 'Peace, Peace,' but they just kept coming,'' said a woman who identified herself as Yolanda.

The march along Passeig de Gracia and rally at the Plaza de Cataluna - along with other weekend activities - were organized to coincide with a World Bank meeting originally scheduled for this week. Officials canceled the meeting last week to avoid violent protests that have marred meetings of global and regional institutions in the past two years.

The march was largely peaceful, but some store windows were broken along the route, among them a Burger King restaurant and a Swatch store. Small groups of men and women taunted riot police.

Thousands of other demonstrators joined the marchers at the park following the march. They had been peacefully listening to speakers and chanting slogans when the police swept through the plaza.

The police charged the crowd after a small group of masked men and women who appeared to be police agents staged a fight at the edge of the park in full view of a line of riot police standing in front of police vans. A few dozen demonstrators were pulled into the violence.

''Police provoked the fight. They were part of it,'' said Ada Colau, a spokeswoman for the Campaign Against the World Bank, one of the protest organizations.

Reporters watched as the police appeared to use the staged scuffle as bait to pull protesters into it and then use it as a pretext to charge into the park. A second charge emptied the park within minutes.

The masked assailants, some of them apparently wearing earphones, had gathered in groups on the fringes of the protest march as it arrived at the park after passing down a dozen blocks of the boulevard.

They were wearing knapsacks and carrying sticks, but were able to walk freely past police, pull on their masks and position themselves between the edge of the crowd in the park and the police lines 25 yards away.

The fight began when one man grabbed another and pulled him to the ground. Others from the same group began kicking and slugging each other.

When demonstrators saw what was going on and joined the fight, the police charged into the park. The men and women involved in the scuffle walked through the police line and boarded the vans.

A reporter asked one of them if they were police. He at first said yes, and then said no, before walking undeterred by police to the vans.

State television said 19 people were arrested, and the news agency Efe quoted emergency medical services as saying 32 were slightly injured with bumps and bruises.

Anti-globalization activists from a potpourri of organizations have been showing up at summits of the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, institutions they claim widen the gap between rich and poor.

Some protests resulted in violent clashes with the police, most recently at the European Summit held in Goteborg, Sweden, this month, when several people were wounded by gunshots fired by the police.

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