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Analysis: What do the protesters want?
LONDON, England (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac paused on the steps of the Nice Acropolis Palace to sneeze. Not a winter cold but a whiff of tear-gas drifting in from the streets.
On one side of a thin line of black-clad riot police sit Europe's political power-brokers, convened in Nice to address the next steps of European expansion and a host of other EU problems.
On the other stand thousands of demonstrators, pursuing a range of causes, from trades union solidarity to anti-globalisation, from anarcho-syndicalism to Basque and Corsican nationalism.
The protesters are arriving mainly from Spain, Italy, Germany, Britain and France itself. Some simply want to voice their disapproval of the EU's free-market policies, others to cause trouble.
Europe's senior administrators insist that political and social welfare is uppermost in their minds as they discuss the enlargement of the EU to the east, as well as plans for a Charter of Fundamental Rights
"Everyone knows that Europe will be safer and more prosperous if it is enlarged," European commissioner Chris Patten told CNN on Thursday.
The demonstrators disagree, calling on the EU to do more to combat social exclusion and poverty across the union, which is currently 15-strong but is due to expand in the next few years.
'Europe is not for sale'
The demonstrators chant a variety of militant slogans: "People before profit", "The world is not a commodity", "No, No, No to a federal Europe - Yes, Yes, Yes to a social Europe" and "A social Europe does not belong to the bosses."
One key issue is the new Charter of Fundamental Rights, which aims to bring together for the first time economic and social rights which should benefit all European citizens. Critics say the non-binding document does not go far enough to protect workers.
The anti-globalisation movement has become a regular presence at international gatherings, following the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last December and in Prague during September's World Bank/IMF conference
The key umbrella group Initiative Against Economic Globalisation (INPEG) has consistently expressed its opposition to violence initiated by demonstrators.
Activists from a variety of organisations have called on the EU to impose a so-called "Tobin Tax" of 0.25 a percent on all global financial transactions to raise an estimated $250 billion annually for social programmes.
"Our objective is not so much to block the summit as to be here to make sure our voices are heard," said Christophe Aguiton of the French group Action Against Unemployment (AC!).
The group has organised "solidarity Euromarches against unemployment, insecurity and exclusion" to underline what AC! says is a link between the unemployed in France and those in neighbouring countries.
'The Europe of exploitation'
Other French groups represented in Nice include the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) and the militant anarchist National Labour Confederation (CNT).
"The Europe that they [the EU] claim to be building has nothing in common with the interests of the workers, the unemployed, and the youth," the LCR says in its manifesto.
"It serves the industrialists and the financial groups. Their Europe is the Europe of exploitation."
When the temperature rises and clashes break out, as they did in Seattle and Prague, both sides have shown themselves to be well-prepared.
Millitant activists have used "Molotov cocktail" petrol bombs, stones, even steel police barriers. The security forces have responded with tear-gas, water cannons and clubs.
Despite the violence in Nice, EU officials are doing their best to put a positive spin on the protests.
Foreign trade commissioner Pascal Lamy said the demonstrations were "positive" because they showed how "concerned" European citizens were about the Nice deliberations.
But he and his colleagues must be hoping that the level of violence does not escalate to an extent that might jeopardise the security of the summit itself.
Violence flares at EU summit
Nice European Council
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