The Associated Press
ROSTOCK, Germany - Masked demonstrators showered police with grapefruit-sized rocks and beer bottles, then were driven back with water cannon and tear gas during a protest march Saturday against the upcoming Group of Eight summit in Germany.
Protestors jump over teargas grenades fired by German police during a demonstration against the upcoming G8 summit in Rostock, Germany, on Saturday. (AP Photo/Fabian Bimmer)
The clashes left smoke from burning cars and the sting of tear gas drifting through the harborfront area in the north German port of Rostock. Some 146 police were hurt, 18 of them seriously.
Radicals "are smashing everything in their way to pieces," said Karsten Wolff, a police spokesman.
The officially permitted march preceded a three-day summit beginning Wednesday in the seaside resort of Heiligendamm, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts the leaders of the other G-8 nations -- Britain, France, Japan, Italy, Russia, Canada and the United States.
The leaders are expected to discuss measures against global warming, the fight against AIDS and poverty in Africa, and the world economy. As in previous years, the summit drew protesters of various stripes opposed to globalization, capitalism and the G-8 itself.
Most marchers were peaceful, but others pried up paving stones and broke them into chunks before charging police. Officers in helmets and full body armor fell back, then charged the demonstrators.
Five large green police trucks with twin water cannons mounted on top blasted groups of rioters. A police car was destroyed and several parked cars burned, spreading black smoke over the area.
Protesters torched a large blue recycling bin.
Police spokesman Frank Scheulen estimated the number of violence-minded demonstrators at about 2,000. Police put the size of the demonstration at 25,000, while organizers said it was 80,000.
Officials said 17 people were arrested.
Werner Raetz, an anti-globalization activist with Attac, one of the organizing groups, distanced himself from the violence: "There is no justification for these attacks."
As for the further demonstrations that are planned for next week, Raetz said both sides should try to get the "emotional situation" under control.
Police have built a seven-mile fence around the summit site at Heiligendamm and banned protests in the immediate area. There are several camps in the area for protesters and marches are planned.
Peter Mueller, who was among the demonstrators, had tears streaming from bloodshot eyes after the tear gas was released. "As long as the police were in the background it was OK, but as soon as one took a step closer, it went out of control," he said.
He shrugged. "What can you do? So ends the peaceful protest."
At one point, a line of police marched through a harborside street to scatter demonstrators, and were pelted with stones from behind. One of the organizers pleaded for calm from a loudspeaker.
"The police are heading back so we can hold our protest in peace, that is what we want," he said.
The march began without violence, and most of the demonstrators remained peaceful, gathering to listen to speeches from a stage in a large square near the waterfront.
But some taunted members of the 13,000-strong police detachment from around Germany, and several hundred wore bandanas across their faces with sweat shirt hoods pulled down low to obscure their identities.
The protesters from around Europe and the world gathered at two locations early in the day for rallies, then marched in two groups along three-mile routes to converge on the harbor for the main demonstration.
Police lined the path through the city, and helicopters flew overhead. Most shops and cafes were shuttered.
The protest was organized by several dozen groups under the motto "another world is possible."
"The world shaped by the dominance of the G-8 is a world of war, hunger, social divisions, environmental destruction and barriers against migrants and refugees," organizers said in leaflets handed out on the streets.
Kay Stenzel woke at 3 a.m. to drive in from the eastern city of Bautzen with four friends to voice their discontent with the G-8 leaders.
"They want to impose their wills upon the poor nations," he said, waving a red flag emblazoned with a black cat -- an animal he chose because it was "unruly."
On their Web site, organizers emphasized that they wanted a peaceful protest.
"There is no reason to be afraid to come to the big demonstration in Rostock," they said. "We do not expect major problems with the police."
Anti-globalization protests have plagued similar summits in recent years, especially meetings of the World Trade Organization. In 1999, 50,000 protesters shut down WTO sessions in Seattle as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. There were some 600 arrests and $3 million in property damage.
At subsequent WTO meetings in Cancun, Mexico, and Hong Kong, smaller protests also disrupted meetings. The street riots outside all three talks have been blamed for contributing to the failure of negotiations inside.
At the G-8 meeting in Genoa, Italy, in 2001, police and protesters clashed in the streets for several days and one protester was killed.