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Riot police disperse EU protesters

A protester is restained during a demonstration  

BARCELONA, Spain -- Spanish riot police broke up a crowd of several hundred anti-globalisation activists during a summit of European Union leaders.

Several protesters, from groups including some from Britain and France, were dragged away by plain-clothes police officers as European leaders on Friday discussed the economy, Zimbabwe and the Mideast.

Eyewitnesses told Reuters news agency that police intervened after a crowd

gathered around Barcelona's Liceu opera house and began setting fire to rubbish bins and smashing windows.

Shopkeepers put up shutters but the trouble dissipated when the crowd was chased down side streets.

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Barcelona has prepared for potential trouble from demonstrators or terror strikes by deploying up to 11,000 police and putting jet fighters and anti-aircraft missiles on stand-by.

Tens of thousands of trade unionists had earlier on Thursday taken to the streets in a peaceful demonstration calling for more workers' protection rights.

Meanwhile, talks were stalling among the leaders of the 15-member EU on Friday over efforts to inject some momentum into ambitious economic reform plans first broached two years ago in Lisbon.

The plan attempts to make Europe the most dynamic centre in the world, matching the U.S., by 2010 through the mechanism of liberated markets.

The leaders are set to move onto discussing Zimbabwe's recent elections and whether to extend existing sanctions during dinner on Friday.

Also on the agenda will be the Middle East and Saudi Arabia's peace plan for the region.

For the first time, 13 mainly ex-communist states who hope to eventually join the EU will also take full part in talks at the Barcelona summit.

The EU has to reform its economic practice if it is to compete with the U.S. Sweden, for example, has complained that it costs four times as much for a business to set up in Europe than it does in the United States.

The EU must also open up labour and trade markets to competition.

But CNN's European political editor Robin Oakley said the gap that existed between free-marketeers and social welfare protectionists remains wide.

Leaders, including Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, the UK's Tony Blair and host Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, want a more flexible labour market.

Warship at Barcelona
Warships in Barcelona port are part of the extensive security arrangements  

But countries such as France and Belgium remain "hooked on the old European social model," he said.

With elections imminent, France and Germany are cautious of potentially unpopular ideas like watering down job security laws or dismantling state monopolies with unionised workforces.

French President Jacques Chirac and his Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who face off against each other in a presidential election next month, have made clear they will make only limited concessions to EU demands that France let other firms compete with its state monopoly in electricity supply.

In Germany, Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said he expected a deal on opening the French electricity market.

"I think we will seek a compromise with France and will certainly find one," he told reporters in Barcelona on Friday.

"What's important is that the direction makes sense."

Denmark's liberal Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country takes over leadership of the EU from Spain in July, accused his European partners of dragging their feet when it came to catching up with the Americans.

"There is a growing gap between the EU and the United States both economic and technological," he said.

"If there was a political will this could be a very important summit...There is a bit too much foot-dragging when it comes to the political will to see through reforms in Europe."

Among successes that the EU will be able to celebrate is the signing of a treaty, brokered by foreign policy chief Javier Solana, between Montenegro and federal Yugoslavia to avert a secession that many had feared could spark another Balkan war. (full story)

The presidents of Yugoslavia and Montenegro were to attend part of the summit in Barcelona later on Friday.


• Military guard for Spanish summit
March 14, 2002
• Poor progress report for EU
March 14, 2002

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