- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

QUEBEC A nervous Quebec battened down the hatches yesterday as government officials and protesters descended on the city for a summit of leaders from North and South America.
The Summit of the Americas, the third since 1994, is taking place amid the largest security operation in Canadian history, with about 5,000 police officers guarding the 6,000 delegates who will attend the meeting.
At the summit, the 34 leaders from every country in the Western Hemisphere except Fidel Castro's Cuba will sign off on plans, already hammered out in detail by trade ministers two weeks ago in Argentina, to negotiate a free-trade zone known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
On the Canadian border last night, more than 200 American activists heading to the summit were greeted by almost as many police officers. Dozens of them were stopped for questioning by Canadian customs officials after they walked or drove across the International Bridge from Hogansburg, N.Y.
The protesters entered Canada peacefully, apart from a few noisy firecrackers that rang out as helicopters hovered overhead, creating a tense atmosphere during the 2* hours it took customs officers to process the group.
"They searched our car, asked us a bunch of questions and looked for illegal stuff," said one protester from Ann Arbor, Mich., who called himself "Auto Dog" and refused to reveal his real name.
"They took a respiratory mask and a pair of goggles we had."
A storm of protest is expected from the labor, environmental and human rights activists who created havoc at a December 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Demonstrators have been trickling into Quebec over the past week, plotting protests against what they deride as "corporate" globalization.
Worried that some demonstrators will resort to violence, the police erected a 12-foot-high chain-link fence, anchored in concrete, encircling the entire meeting area of the leaders, as well as their hotels. The barrier, which keeps protesters at least 100 yards from official meetings, cuts an ugly path through the picturesque city.
Authorities began to slowly seal off the official security perimeter yesterday afternoon, using forklifts to drop concrete barriers into place. By today, only government officials, journalists and residents will be permitted inside. Residents must carry identification cards until the summit wraps up on Sunday.
"In the evening, things will get much more stringent," said Julie Brongel, a police spokeswoman.
The hotel where President Bush will stay is already under tight security.
Canadian police on Wednesday arrested six persons who they believed were plotting violence at the summit.
The men, who have been charged with endangering public safety, were carrying small explosives and smoke grenades, some of them military-issue, police said.
As police slowly tightened their grip yesterday, sporadic, peaceful protests broke out. Demonstrators focused their ire on the 12-foot barrier, which is covered with colorful slogans, some anti-American, some mocking the fence as a new Berlin Wall.
Others criticized the heavy police presence as an infringement on civil liberties.
"As soon as your protests become effective, they haul you off to jail," said Joseph Tohill, a labor activist from Toronto.
Most businesses, especially those just outside the security fence, were taking no chances. Storefronts in much of Quebec's old city have been boarded up, with shop owners worried that the town's narrow streets will become targets for guerrilla-style blockades or outright vandalism.
One manager of a Gap outlet was trying to remain upbeat but acknowledged he might have to close.
"So far, it's business as usual," said Jean Simon Roy, a district manager for the Gap in Quebec. "We'll stay open as long as we can."
Next door, a recruiting office for the Canadian military was boarded up, and officials had removed all its signs, leaving the stone building anonymous.
One book shop took a different tack. Instead of boarding up its windows, the store displayed a dozen books with titles critical of free trade and globalization.
Farther down a street filled with posh shops stood an empty McDonald's, already mostly boarded up. Workers removed the restaurant's sign, leaving only shadows of letters that normally spell out the name of a quintessential symbol of American-style globalization.
Well outside the security perimeter, opponents of the free-trade zone rallied under a huge tent at a "People's Summit" designed to highlight what they charge are the harmful effects of globalization. Speaker after speaker denounced the official summit in English, French and Spanish, often reserving their toughest words for the United States.
Many of the activists will turn their attention to demonstrations against the official summit today. Amanda Montgomery and Sheilagh Whitley, both 24, traveled from Toronto to lend their voice to the protests. Both are politically active environmentalists who worry that violence will obscure their message and get them into trouble.
"I need to think about not being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Miss Montgomery said. "I want to make a statement but I don't want to get hurt."
Where the "wrong place" is remains to be seen. Getting a clear picture of how the potentially violent protests will unfold is difficult because so many different groups, and individuals acting alone, are involved.
One Montreal-based group that has taken a leading role in organizing protests, the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, has distributed leaflets calling for different "zones" that correspond to levels of violence.
In the red zone, protesters should be "aware of the high risk involved, which includes police reactions," the group warned.
The security measures and protests are overshadowing what is otherwise a fairly cheerful atmosphere for the largest event Quebec has hosted. Many buildings are festooned with banners in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. Thousands of volunteers have fanned out across the city to assist delegates and journalists.
Special correspondent Mark Blanchard in Cornwall, Ontario, contributed to this report.

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