- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

From combined dispatches

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of this seaside resort yesterday chanting “Get out Bush” as the U.S. president sought to promote free trade at a divided Summit of the Americas.

After a peaceful start, the protests turned violent with about 1,000 people shattering storefronts with clubs and pelting riot police with stones.

Demonstrators took to the streets hours before the summit started, shouting insults about Mr. Bush and chanting “Fascist Bush. You are the terrorist.”

Before the summit got off the ground in this normally tranquil seaside resort, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged as the most strident opponent of a plan to create a Western Hemisphere-wide free trade area.

Addressing more than 10,000 peaceful protesters, the socialist-minded Venezuelan leader vowed to defeat the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, once and for all. The plan had languished for a decade.

Speaking before a six-story banner of revolutionary Che Guevara, Mr. Chavez urged the throng — including soccer great Diego Maradona and Bolivian presidential hopeful Evo Morales — to help him fight free trade.

“Only united can we defeat imperialism and bring our people a better life,” he said.

Later as the protesters gathered momentum, some tried to break through a barricade on Avenida de Colon, a main shopping street.

Booming tear gas canisters arced overhead as riot police surged forward, moving to repel the masked protesters who also trained slingshots on police.

Demonstrators carried sticks the size of baseball bats. Most were masked to cover their faces from police and guard against acrid tear gas. Car sirens also wailed as residents — including elderly people and children — fled while police held fast behind the barricades.

Protesters set fire to American flags and a bank. Several young people threw sharpened sticks toward police, who carried plastic shields and wore orange vests. Protesters dragged furniture from some stores and used it as fuel to set fires to keep police back.

Ramon Madrid, a hotel manager hurriedly closed up just three stores down from a pastry shop with shattered windows. He said he had never seen such violence in the bucolic seaside resort, Argentina’s favored vacation spot.

Schools, universities, hospitals, courts and other public sector staff joined the protests in about 200 towns and cities across Argentina from Ushuaia in the south to La Quiaca in the north.

In the southern city of Neuquen, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators who threw eggs and stones at a Blockbuster video store.

In Buenos Aires, protesters covered the Obelisk, the capital’s central monument, with a banner declaring “Bush Out.” Demonstrators burned a U.S. flag nearby.

Protesters threw rubbish on the pavement in front of a McDonalds fast-food outlet and set the garbage alight, as other demonstrators protested outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital.

The Buenos Aires metro railway system was disrupted as workers joined the protests while some feared attacks during the two-day summit.

Workers in the Bolivian town of Villazon staged a symbolic protest with Brazilian counterparts on a border bridge, organizers said.

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