One monk, one drag queen vs 12,000 police at French G8

DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - A few hundred campers in a faraway forest, one Buddhist monk and one drag queen -- protest at G8 summits is not what it used to be.

With nary an activist in sight, the Deauville summit will go down in history for its lack of organized protest, in sharp contrast to past events like the April 2009 NATO meeting in Strasbourg, northeast France, where rioters laid waste to a neighborhood and set several buildings ablaze.

The 12,000 police officers securing the seaside town of Deauville, host of the annual Group of Eight summit, spent most of their time checking entry badges.

Praying alone at a Deauville roundabout, Japanese Buddhist monk Sekiguchi Toyoshige cut a lonely figure as motorbike outriders and world leaders in limos whizzed past him.

“I came here for praying for peace, harmony of religions and abolishment of nuclear weapons and nuclear plants,” he said.

He walked from Paris to Deauville in 12 days. French families gave him food and lodging. Police took away his banner.

“Maybe French policemen not interested, don’t like this message, I think so,” said the monk, dressed in flowing saffron robes, a pair of sneakers the only nod to modernity.

Authorities had turned Deauville -- bordered by the sea, a river and two horse race tracks -- into an impregnable fortress.

They had reason to be worried, as the Deauville G8 was the first major international meeting since U.S. forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. France has led the West’s intervention in Libya and its ban on full-face Muslim veils has triggered calls for armed retaliation.

Anti-globalization protesters’ only forum was the enormous press center, where activists tried to inject an alternative view into the reams of copy put out by around 3,500 journalists.

Francois, an activist in drag, got his message across.

He and other AIDS activists staged a mock “Miss Promise” election to denounce the G8’s tendency to renege on promises.

“The G8 has broken its promise to make AIDS treatment available to everyone,” said Francois, full black beard set off against an electric pink dress.

The few hundred protestors banished to the town of Le Havre, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Deauville, struggled to be heard.

Christian Pigeon, member of an anti-G8 collective, said he could make his point from anywhere and said the G8 was pointless.

“This G8 is purely for internal usage, for Sarkozy to show he is the president of the presidents of the world.”

Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Andrew Heavens