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Protesters demonstrate over diverse issues

NBC News Keith Miller reports on how the confluence of major world leaders, the diverse group of protesters they attract, and the incredible security they require have thrown the local community off of their golf game.
An anti-G8 protester dressed as a clown
An anti-G8 protester dressed as a clown stands by a fence near one of the main entrance to Gleneagles hotel where the G8 summit gets underway on Wednesday.  Nicolas Asfouri / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

As President Bush and other world leaders gathered at the Group of Eight meeting in Scotland on Wednesday, thousands of protesters lined the perimeter of the resort where the summit will take place.

NBC News Keith Miller reports on the diverse group of protesters outside of the G-8 summit, what they hope to achieve, and how the incredible security has thrown the entire local community for a loop.   

What is the scene like among the protestors outside of the G-8 summit?
Well generally, it has been very peaceful and really colorful. You’ve got such an eclectic group of people protesting and demonstrating.

You’ve got people talking about African rights and global-warming concerns, as well as environmentalists and animal activists — so its a very eclectic group of people.

There probably will be some problems eventually. I say that primarily because of the anarchists that are here.

The G-8 meetings for some years have been attracting a very disruptive element and they are from different nationalities. The police are telling us that there are some anarchists from Italy, Germany, France, and of course from the U.K. itself. At some point, they will, no doubt, cause some trouble.

Basically, the scene now is that Gleneagles is surrounded by the so-called “Wall of Steel.” Gleneagles itself is really a resort, with a hotel and golf complex. It is very popular and very upscale. It has been surrounded by this five-mile chain-link fence — and there are several thousand security people inside.

Some protesters are here dressed as clowns, just playing and basically having a street party. They will go home peacefully.

But there are some hard-core people here who have vowed to disrupt the G-8 summit.

Principally, what they want to do is to reach the perimeter fence, get in, and force the G-8 leaders to abandon the summit. That would be their ultimate goal. But, it is very unlikely they are going to achieve that because of the level of security here.

The top cop in Scotland was calling this the largest security operation ever in the United Kingdom. They called in 10,000 officers from as far away as London, and even parts of Wales, to bring all of these police up here.

Also there are some security people inside the perimeter, obviously for the direct protection of President George Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and others.

What do the protesters really hope to accomplish? You just said that some protesters hope that the leaders abandon the summit, but there are others that are protesting globalization, and others demonstrating for an end to poverty in Africa? What are their goals?
Well, you have so many different groups here, representing so many different causes that you probably don’t have one unified position, other than the disruption of the G-8 summit itself.

Now, many of the protesters are here talking about global warming. So they are not interested in creating such a mess that the G8 leaders can’t discuss that very important problem.

But, there is a hard-core group of people, I guess you could brand them as anarchists, who are intent on disrupting the G-8 summit, as they tried to do in Seattle and they tried to do in Genoa. Both of those attempts failed, but Genoa was a very violent confrontation between police and protesters.

The level of violence here is unlikely to reach that, partly because of the nature of the terrain. This is a wide open rural area with fields of barley and rye. It is a bit difficult to stage an urban street battle in a barley field, so the protesters are certainly at a disadvantage.

But, before the night is over, there will be arrests and there will be injuries. That is for sure. 

The leaders have said that they will discuss Africa and climate issues during the summit. What else do the protesters hope to gain on those issues?
Those who are protesting and demonstrating the issues that are specific to the G-8 conference, like you just mentioned – global warming — will be discussed, but apparently there will be no real movement on that. So the people here just want to make sure that their voices are heard, that this is of great concern to them.

Then of course, you have the issues of poverty in Africa and debt relief. They are issues that may be handled in a very positive manner by the G-8.

We know that Prime Minister Tony Blair definitely wants some movement on debt reduction for Third World countries to alleviate poverty. These would all be positives. The demonstrators here who are in support of debt reduction are just showing that they are unanimously behind Blair’s position.

So, again it is very hard to pin down because there are so many different groups here. There are people here talking about independence for Cyprus — I don’t know where that comes from.

We have of course the Palestinian movement here and people talking about the lifting of the wall separating the West Bank from Israel proper. We have people talking about stabilization and peace in the Congo.

It is very diverse, very eclectic, and even somewhat obscure groups who have come out for this summit.

This is mostly a young crowd — obviously idealistic, obviously motivated — with a sprinkling of people that are interested in street battles. Most of the people have been well behaved and there has been kind of a carnival atmosphere on the streets.

How has the small town Auchterarder, a village of about 4,000 people, outside of the Gleneagles resort prepared for the event? Can it absorb both the world leaders and the protesters?
I think they are finding it very difficult. This is a very sleepy corner of Scotland. This is a small community with an older population who are generally more interested in their golf game. They have certainly been put off their swing by the buzzing of surveillance helicopters and the blowing of whistles and horns by the demonstrators.

So, it has been very disruptive to them. The major concern of course was the possibility of violence. But, it appears at this moment that most of the protesters have headed directly to the perimeter fences around Gleneagles and have left the main street alone.

Otherwise, I think the people are staying home and just hoping that the authorities themselves will be able to handle whatever difficulties do arise.