HEILIGENDAMM, Germany (Reuters) - Anti-globalisation protesters claimed victory after thousands took their message to the gates of the village where world leaders were meeting.
Four thousand demonstrators travelled through forests, wheat fields and past German police firing water cannon and pepper spray to occupy the main road into the Baltic resort of Heiligendamm for three days before leaving at the end of the summit on Friday.
They caused disruption for officials from G8 nations who were forced to fly in by helicopter or take the sea route to the venue, but the summit went ahead and questions remained about what the protests accomplished.
Were they just a sideshow? Or did the latest anti-G8 protest produce any tangible results?
Answers vary, but it seems clear that anti-G8 protests will remain an annual accompaniment to Group of Eight meetings.
“This is one of the greatest triumphs for the anti-globalisation movement to date,” said Olaf Bernau, 37, a German anti-G8 leader on the blocked main road to Heiligendamm.
“Without violence and with the simplest of means, we got past all these police barriers. It might only be symbolic but we disrupted the G8 with nothing but our physical presence.”
But Karsten Voigt, a senior German foreign ministry official and formerly a leading figure in West German protest movements, said they had achieved little.
“It was a parasitic action that only succeeded in drawing attention away from issues at the summit,” Voigt told Reuters.
“I don’t think they had any influence at all on the summit. They only influenced the media coverage. They’re against the G8 as an expression of globalisation. But if you look at the protesters, they’ve become globalised themselves.”
An estimated 30,000 protesters flocked to the area around Heiligendamm.
They have become a fixture at G8 meetings. Ever since globalisation opponents caused mayhem at the 1999 World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle, protesters have been trying with varying degrees of success to disrupt G8 meetings.
One demonstrator was killed at the Genoa summit in 2001. Even though most G8 meetings since have been set in isolated rural areas, there were protests of varying scale outside venues in France, Canada, the United States, Britain and Russia.
“I don’t think the demonstrators’ physical presence had any impact,” said Gary Smith, director of the American Academy think tank in Berlin. “Their message was totally inarticulate. What does it mean to be anti-globalisation? It borders on nonsense.
“But I do think (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel was wise to incorporate some of their themes, like poverty and climate change, into her agenda. So it wasn’t like their concerns weren’t being addressed. So you wonder: why they were there?”
The challenge for protesters next year is to get to Hokkaido, on Japan’s northernmost island, about 750 km (470 miles) north of Tokyo.
The demonstrators who seized the tree-lined avenue leading to Heiligendamm on Wednesday turned it into a multi-national celebration. Police by and large retreated.
“They (world leaders) must feel all of this opposition out here,” said Sara Thomas, a 34-year-old teacher from Britain.
“They had all those resources at their disposal -- the army, police, the helicopters -- and yet they couldn’t keep us from getting into the restricted zone or keep us off their road.”
Editing by Keith Weir
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