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Police push back protesters as Quebec summit opens

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Images of protesters clashing with police in Quebec City, Canada
 
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QUEBEC CITY, Canada -- Leaders of countries across the Americas opened talks on a regional free trade pact as police pushed back demonstrators opposed to further globalization.

Police used tear gas, clubs and water cannon on demonstrators outside the fenced-off security zone separating them from officials attending the talks Saturday afternoon.

Inside the meeting hall where the Summit of the Americas was being held, leaders from 34 countries began work on an agenda dominated by trade but including education, the spread of democracy, battling drug trafficking and easing persistent poverty.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said leaders must examine the role their governments will play in the process of globalization.

"The challenge we all face as leaders is how best to steer our governments' agenda back toward addressing the most critical problems facing our citizens. Globalization is certainly one factor affecting how democracies work," Chretien said.

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Police use tear gas and water cannons on protesters outside the Summit of the Americas

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Police turn water cannons on demonstrators outside the Summit of the Americas

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U.S. President George W. Bush said he was willing to listen to critics "who want to join us in constructive dialogue." He acknowledged concerns that globalized trade could hurt environmental standards and workers in other countries but added: "These concerns must not be an excuse for self-defeating protectionism."

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Mike Gaudet said authorities in Quebec expected as many as 30,000 protesters on Saturday after police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets battled protesters who tried to take over several streets Friday night. The clashes lasted into the pre-dawn hours Saturday, with protesters taunting police, blowing horns and beating drums.

The demonstrators include a wide variety of leftist, anti-capitalist, labor and environmental groups who believe free trade and globalization are detrimental to workers and the environment. Gaudet estimated the number of demonstrators Friday night at between 4,000 and 5,000, but he acknowledged that only a "very, very small percentage" of the protesters was violent.

"We saw at one point a crowd of about 5,000, and if you look at some of the footage, you'll see just a very small number at the front ranks most of the time. We know that most of the people here want to be peaceful in their presentations."

Because similar protests at previous world trade meetings had turned violent, Canadian officials launched a massive security operation for the summit, bringing in 6,000 officers. About 100 protesters were arrested and five police officers were injured, including one who remained hospitalized after being beaten in the head with a metal bar by protesters, authorities said.

Kevin Danaher, a nonviolent protester with Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights group, said the clashes were "unfortunate."

"People start talking about the pyrotechnics and not what's going on," he said.

A wide-raging coalition of protest groups scheduled "The March of the Peoples of the Americas" for Saturday, while inside the hall, leaders of 34 countries from the Western Hemisphere began to discuss the creation of a free trade zone throughout the Americas by 2005. The zone would include nearly 800 million people from the Andes to the Arctic.

Bush said the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada has boosted the economies all three countries, and "a prosperous society is one that's more likely to be just."

"It's the poor nations that have trouble dealing with labor conditions," Bush said in an appearance with Mexican President Vicente Fox. "It's the poor nations that have trouble dealing with environmental quality."

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Western Hemisphere leaders, including U.S. President Bush, wave as they pose for the official photo for the Summit of the Americas on Saturday at the Citadelle overlooking Quebec City, Canada  

But while Fox called NAFTA "a great success," he said its benefits have not cured all ills in the region.

"There is much to welcome, but there is still much that we need to regret," he said. "Our region continues to be one of the most inequitable regions in the world, (and) 220 million Latin Americans still live in poverty."

The proposed pan-American trade pact would include every nation in the hemisphere but Cuba, which is still under communist rule.

The agreement also faces opposition from the U.S. Congress, which must approve any deal, and from business leaders in other countries who do not want to be in direct competition with U.S. companies. And many, including major American labor leaders, say NAFTA has not been the success Bush touts.

"If you look at NAFTA, the Mexican worker and the Canadian workers have had their wages decrease," said Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the U.S. labor alliance AFL-CIO. "We see a spiraling, a blossoming trade deficit. And during the recovery, we've lost three-quarters of a million manufacturing jobs in this country."

Bush's position would also be enhanced by the approval of "fast-track" negotiating authority, which would require an up-or-down vote in Congress on any agreement without amendments. Bush said he was "confident" he could get that authority before year's end.



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RELATED SITES:
Summit of the Americas
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Summit of the Americas - Security
AmericasCanada.org
Independent Media Center - FTAA Coverage

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