Protesters battle police at Summit of Americas
QUEBEC CITY, Canada (CNN) -- Protesters clashed with police today near the Summit of the Americas after the crowd tore down parts of a fence and barricades erected to keep them away from the conference in southeastern Canada.
Riot police with helmets, batons and shields stood shoulder-to-shoulder trying to maintain their perimeter while demonstrators lobbed rocks, bottles and parts of the fence at the officers.
Police answered with tear gas. Protesters picked up some of the tear gas canisters and tossed them back at police. The air soon grew hazy with the gas.
In a scene reminiscent of the protests against the Vietnam War, one young woman walked down the row of police offering them a flower.
Protesters vehemently oppose a free trade agreement -- which is high on the agenda of the summit of 34 Western Hemisphere leaders -- because they believe it would benefit only multinational corporations.
Authorities brought in 6,000 police officers from across Canada because of violence at the 1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, Washington.
Protesters also prepared for violence, bringing their own gas masks, helmets and padded clothing for protection.
Departing the White House on his way to Quebec City, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the summit was important for the United States because its future is "closely tied to the future of our hemisphere."
"Together we will put forward an agenda to strengthen our democracies, to tackle common challenges and we will seek to expand our prosperity by expanding trade," he said.
"Open trade in our hemisphere will open new markets . . ." he said, "fuel engines of economic growth for new jobs and incomes and apply the power of the markets to the needs of the poor."
Hundreds of demonstrators staged a peaceful protest Thursday night, but Canadian officials were prepared to keep the demonstrations from becoming a repeat of those outside the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, Washington, in 1999.
Protests in Seattle turned violent, with more than 500 people eventually arrested as city officials employed tear gas and a 24-hour curfew to stop the activities.
In Quebec City, authorities circled the summit venue with a 2.3-mile concrete and chain-link fence to keep the demonstrators away from the regional leaders. More than 6,000 specially trained riot police are also on hand.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, hosting the conference, was the first to arrive. U.S. President George W. Bush was expected to come to Canada in the afternoon for his first international summit since his election.
Bush supports the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would lift trade barriers from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. But supporters of the FTAA face opposition not only from the protesters but from more directly influential sources as well.
Some of that opposition comes from the U.S. Congress -- which must give Bush approval if he is to negotiate a trade agreement -- and business leaders in other countries who don't want to be in direct competition with U.S. companies.
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