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Anti-Summit Protests Say Leaders Fail to Address Poverty, Trade Issues - 2003-06-01

As leaders from some of the world's richest and poorest nations gathered in Evian, France, before the G-8 economic summit, thousands of anti-summit protesters demonstrated in French and Swiss regions nearby. Scattered vandalism has already occurred.

Protesters marching from Geneva and the nearby French town of Annemasse converged in the late morning on the outskirts of the Evian summit, where French President Jacques Chirac greeted leaders from 20 developing and industrialized countries.

Summit protest organizers estimated their numbers at tens of thousands on either side of the French and Swiss border. Local police offered much lower figures.

As in previous counter-G-8 demonstrations, the protesters denounced what they consider a clubby group of rich nations that has failed to address poverty, environmental degradation, unfair international trade, and other global problems.

But the Evian protesters had little chance of getting anywhere near the lakeside meeting of the G-8 countries' leaders, which expanded to include leaders from developing nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

French and Swiss security forces have taken unprecedented measures to establish checkpoints, cut off some Alpine routes and public transportation, and comb the region by sky, water and road.

But a few of the demonstrations have gotten out of hand. In Lausanne, Switzerland, across Lake Geneva from Evian, protesters in black demolished shop windows and attacked at least one gasoline station. Lausanne officials, who were hosting a dozen leaders from developing countries for the summit, canceled a demonstration authorized for late in the day.

In nearby Geneva, security authorities said, protesters threw gasoline bombs at a city theater. They also set tires ablaze and tried to block summit employees from leaving Geneva for Evian. Police also fired teargas against an estimated 2,000 protesters trying to block a road in the nearby town of Annemasse.

Earlier in the week, anti-summit organizers hosted an alternative summit in the Geneva area. But organizers concede that participation at the forums and protest marches is sizably smaller than anticipated - partly, they insist, because protesters have instead joined separate demonstrations against government proposals to reform France's pension system.