As leaders of the world’s biggest economies head to France for the annual G7 summit this weekend, social justice campaigners expressed concern over the ramped up police presence and said the gathering’s focus on inequality will likely offer up nothing more than lip service from the nations fueling the crisis.
The site of the summit is the southwestern French city of Biarritz, which, as Reuters reported this week, “will be transformed into more of a fortress than a surfers’ paradise.”
“France is deploying 13,200 police backed up by soldiers and drones to make sure [protesters] are kept far from the summit,” the news agency reported.
The country is rolling out “a raft of unprecedented measures” to deal with potential unrest. “Authorities have banned all demonstrations, not just in Biarritz but also the conjoined towns of Anglet and Bayonne,” Agence France-Presse reported.
“Our vigilance is maximum,” French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Tuesday.
Two security perimeters will be set up in Biarritz, with a “red zone” including the beach and the Hotel du Palais off limits to anyone without summit accreditation.
Outside that area, much of the rest of the city center will be in a blue zone where locals and businesses will need a badge obtained from the town hall to gain access.
Critics of the summit, including members of the “yellow vest” movement, are set to lay out a different vision at a counter summit held roughly 18 miles away in the twin cities of Hendaye, France and Irun, Spain. Some protesters will also defy the protest ban with marches on Saturday and Sunday, AFP reported.
Amnesty International, in a statement on Thursday, called on police to respect protesters’ rights.
“As thousands of protesters prepare to take to the streets this weekend, the announced presence of more than 13,000 police, extensive restrictions on public assemblies, and enhanced judicial measures to arrest and prosecute protesters, gives cause for concern,” said Marco Perolin, a researcher with the organization.
“The hasty erection of pre-fabricated cells in front of the court in Bayonne and the arrival of dozens of additional prosecutors and judges,” said Perolin, “are a signal of intent that could lead to indiscriminate mass arrests and fast-track prosecutions.”
Perolin also urged authorities to “avoid the sort of heavy-handed policing we have seen during recent demonstrations. They must not apply draconian laws to prosecute protesters who are exercising their right to demonstrate peacefully.”
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, expressed criticism about the heavy police presence as well.
“If they were really interested in building a fairer world,” he said, “surely the G7 would not need to put the whole region of France into lockdown, with thousands of police and ‘unprecedented’ levels of security.”
“The real source of hope is far more likely to come from the protestors outside the summit, who rather than colluding with fascists like [President Donald] Trump, include many people already starting to build a better world,” said Dearden.
The French President Emmanuel Macron put the focus for the upcoming summit on “intolerable” inequality, stating, “Beyond the individual suffering it causes, inequality makes the status quo unbearable and legitimately fuels many of the social and political protests which are destabilizing certain world regions.”
Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of anti-war group CodePink, isn’t buying it.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Benjamin said, “The streets are rising up against the very people in power who have continued to allow this to happen and are not going to be fooled by their nice words.”
“I don’t think that Macron would have even, or Trump, or any of them, would have even had this as a focus were it not for popular pressure. But I don’t think they are at all ready to hear the radical solutions that those of us on the outside want to see,” she added.
“When world leaders claim they’re coming together to create a more equal, peaceful, and sustainable world,” he said, “it’s important to judge them on their actions rather than their rhetoric.”
“The truth is that these leaders represent the countries most responsible for driving global inequality, arms sales, and climate change. Unless they’re prepared to break with corporate interests and big-business-first policies,” said Dearden, “they will continue pushing the world into the abyss.”
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