- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 16, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG — Small crowds of protesters gathered in St. Petersburg for the start of the Group of Eight summit yesterday, but their numbers were dwarfed by police and their demonstrations were a far cry from the massive anti-globalization rallies of past G-8 meetings.

About 300 Russians gathered for an unsanctioned march in the city center organized by the Communist Party and a number of smaller, more radical parties.

Dozens of riot police in helmets carrying plastic shields and batons faced off briefly with the Communists and their supporters, who carried banners reading “G-8 outlaws” and “world without G-8.”

A brief scuffle broke out after protesters pushed through police lines and about 20 protesters, mainly young members of a radical anarchist group, were stuffed into waiting buses and taken to police stations.

Another 100 anti-globalization activists rallied outside the suburban Kirov stadium, where an alternative summit of Russian opposition groups was taking place. Chanting “freedom” and “no to the G-8,” the protesters only made it as far as the locked stadium gates. Protest leaders pleaded with police to let them through but were refused.

“Do you think we have freedom in Russia behind bars like these?” human rights activist Lev Ponomarov asked reporters through the stadium gates.

Organizers said protests had been pre-empted by heavy-handed police actions, including the arrests of dozens of activists ahead of the summit.

“They made it impossible for us from the beginning,” said Vladimir Soloveichik, an organizer of the anti-globalization protest. “And now they’ve trapped us in here. It’s like a gulag.”

Sergei Tarasov, St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor, said authorities had proven they could tolerate dissent by allowing demonstrators to gather at the stadium, but would not accept an attempt to hold an unsanctioned march.

“We’re taking the same measures as any country has against anti-globalization protesters,” said Mr. Tarasov, who watched the protest.

Meetings of G-8 leaders have regularly attracted large numbers of protesters. The 2001 summit in the Italian city of Genoa was overshadowed by clashes between anti-globalization activists and police.

Protesters in Russia said the Kremlin’s moves to prevent demonstrations underscored growing criticism of the Kremlin for stifling democracy and cracking down on opposition.

Anti-government forces in Russia have urged Western leaders at this weekend’s summit to criticize President Vladimir Putin over the state of Russian democracy.

At a joint press conference yesterday, President Bush said he had raised the issue of democracy, including U.S. efforts to make Iraq a democratic country.

Mr. Putin retorted that he “certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq,” to which Mr. Bush replied: “Just wait.”

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