John King: Protests at Summit of the Americas
CNN White House Correspondent John King is in Quebec City following President Bush on his trip to the Summit of the Americas. King was near where Friday's protests broke out and talked with a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about the volatile situation.
KING: We know that the presidents of Bolivia and Brazil were scheduled to be in a group meeting with President Bush, but they could not make it because of the protests. At least five other leaders from the Caribbean region could not make it to another meeting with President Bush. Apparently, one leader missed a meeting with Central American leaders.
President Bush and the other leaders attending this conference came here knowing full well that there would be protests. Today, protesters have broken through barriers at least twice. It appears that the local police were caught a little off guard by this. The police are now moving outside, in formation, to re-establish a broader perimeter outside the summit site that is already fenced off.
These breaches took place at several locations around the perimeter. It appeared that the protesters were testing to see just where they might have the most impact. There has been heavy use of tear gas in the area to push back protesters. Larger protests are planned for tomorrow when the summit is actually under way in those negotiating sessions.
Police have been studying tapes from the protests in Seattle and Washington, D.C. Apparently, so have the protesters.
Police had hoped that with concrete barriers and then those fences several feet high that they could keep protesters back. Police had voiced confidence that they could keep protesters away from the site.
There is no reason to believe that the leaders attending the conference are in danger, but there have been some disruptions in their travel because of security concerns. Because of the number of protesters in the streets, the police presence, and heavy use of tear gas, some leaders decided to stay in their hotels and not try to attend meetings.
KING: Were you caught off guard today? There were at least two or three times when we saw protesters try to break through the perimeter. Obviously, you had months to prepare for this meeting. Was it a surprise that they tried to come through, and describe for us the police reaction.
POLICE SGT. MIKE GAUDET OF THE ROYAL CANADIAN POLICE: Yes, preparation has been a big part of this. For us, we did monitor the crowd as it grew this afternoon. As you can understand, yes there is a large police presence here, but it is only part of the police operation. We have the fence as part of it. Unfortunately, part of that was pulled down this afternoon. Nevertheless, as the next approach in the police response, our tactical units were able to respond in a timely fashion and allow for no one to get inside the perimeter.
KING: Now, the Summit hasn't even officially begun, yet, and larger protests are planned throughout the weekend. Based on the experience of today, are additional officers being added, or are additional steps being taken? One thing that people have noticed is that police have gone beyond the fence now and seem to be pushing the perimeter out to even a greater distance out from the summit site.
GAUDET: I think what you are seeing is a number of police strategies being put into place. The planning process, as I said earlier, has been in place for some months, and we want to use a measured approach in how we are going to deliver police services here. We have full intentions of allowing the larger number of peaceful demonstrators to do just that. It is their right to do so, but we also have an obligation to provide a safe venue for all the delegates, journalists, local citizens in this very beautiful city. Our plans are to react to the crowd in terms of their behavior. If we see violent acts, we will respond accordingly.
KING: What is your estimate of the ratio of police to protesters here?
GAUDET: We have about 6,000 police officers and there are estimates ranging from 25,000 to 30,000 (protesters). Those are the numbers we have.
KING: Just a few moments ago, we saw these two dozen officers behind us, go into formation, put on their gas masks, and then go back to the perimeter. Is that a sign that you are expecting more [protests] tonight, or do you believe relative calm is in place until the summit is actually under way tomorrow?
GAUDET: We have tactical assessment processes in place, and as you indicate there is a tactical unit just down the street from us, and if there is a possibility of an intervention, and our officers have to protect it, we will wear the protective gear that is necessary.
KING: How arrests today so far, sir?
GAUDET: So far, we have had three arrests as a result of the altercations this afternoon. There was an arrest earlier today with a suspect who came into Quebec in possession of a large number of weapons
KING: A large sum of weapons? Was he viewed as a specific threat to the leaders? Weapons of a destructive nature?
GAUDET: No. Earlier this week, what we had, following several months' investigation, we seized a number of items like thunder flash, smoke grenades, slingshots, steel ball bearings. These are similar items that were seized this afternoon.
KING: Sir, any new steps being taken for tomorrow? It seemed a bit that there was a surprise today -- that they did indeed try to break through the perimeter. Will you toughen up the tactics or will you indeed push back the perimeter?
GAUDET: I repeat, we have been preparing for a long time. We have a number of strategies in place, and we did see a physical part of the security come down. I repeat, no one entered the perimeter.
KING: As you can see, police are reacting and learning from what they have had happen here today. Police still manning the perimeters all around us, but relative calm at this point. It was quite a chaotic scene through much of the afternoon. Staff Sgt. Gaudet made the case that at no point did those protesters get inside. At no point were any of the leaders at risk. But certainly, as they get into the meat of those negotiations, they are well aware that a crowd of several thousand today is expected to grow by many thousands more tomorrow outside their meeting protesting those negotiations about the free trade area of the Americas.
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