Ring of steel to protect city from G8 mayhem

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PARTS of central Edinburgh will be turned into virtual no-go areas in the biggest police operation ever mounted in Scotland when world leaders gather for the G8 summit in July, it emerged yesterday.

The police are expected to lock down a campus around the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse to protect both buildings from the thousands of demonstrators who will descend on the capital for the summit.

They will also set up cordons around major landmarks such as the Forth Road Bridge and Edinburgh Castle, and erect barriers in front of business HQs in an attempt to prevent riots like those which have become almost routine at major international G8-style summits.

Some city-centre businesses will be boarded up and closed and there will be massive traffic disruption during what will be the biggest and most extended protest in Edinburgh’s history.

Leaders from the UK, United States, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia will meet at Gleneagles Hotel as the highlight of Britain’s leadership of the G8 this year.

A massive protest march has been organised for the capital for 2 July, the weekend before the G8 gathering on 6-8 July.

Police had hoped that the march might help dissipate some of the protests planned for the following week in Perthshire, but organisers of the main protest have planned a series of rallies at Faslane, Dungavel and Edinburgh, which will turn the demonstration into a week-long event, leading up to the summit itself.

Early estimates put the numbers expected to descend on Edinburgh at 100,000 to 150,000 but police now believe that could rise to 200,000 and plans are in place to draft in thousands of officers from all over the country to cope.

The policing bill is expected to be about 150 million, which will be picked up by the Foreign Office on behalf of the UK government, as host country.

It is understood that Stirling University’s halls of residence have been earmarked as accommodation for the huge influx of officers from London and elsewhere called in to help, while others may end up staying in Edinburgh’s Pollock Halls.

City residents have also been warned to expect thousands of demonstrators sleeping rough, many of them gravitating to the big parks, unable or unwilling to pay for hotel or guest house accommodation.

Senior police officers have warned of the threat of extremist violence and have shown MSPs footage of the riots in Genoa in Italy and Evian, France, which accompanied recent G8 summits elsewhere in Europe.

Protest leaders insisted yesterday that the demonstrations would be peaceful and they warned the police not to be "heavy handed" when handling the demonstrations.

The police acknowledge the peaceful intentions of most of demonstrators, but are worried that anarchists and militant anti-capitalist groups might hijack the Edinburgh rally as they have done in other cities in the past few years.

The riots in Genoa in 2001 ended with one protester dead, more than 200 people injured, and 250 arrested.

Ian Dickinson, the Assistant Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police, told MSPs earlier this week that Edinburgh would become the focus for protests because it was the nearest accessible city to Gleneagles outside the exclusion zone that will be set up around the hotel.

Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP for the Lothians, said: "There was a recognition at the briefing that this would be the biggest test of security and policing operations we will ever have in Scotland."

Kenny MacAskill, an SNP MSP for the Lothians, said: "Edinburgh will be the focal point for G8 demonstrators, rather than Gleneagles, because people will not be allowed to get anywhere near the summit venue."

And he added: "Auchterarder may be the nearest town to Gleneagles, but in European terms, Auchterarder is just an extension of Edinburgh. The place to come will be here."

The Queen is expected to be in Scotland for the summit as the head of state.

Security experts may advise her to stay at Balmoral and to travel to Gleneagles from there, but she may want to be at Holyroodhouse, particularly if any formal welcoming events are planned for the capital.

But, whether or not the Queen is in residence, a cordon will be thrown around Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament to protect both from demonstrators.

Security at Edinburgh Airport, the main point of entry for the world leaders and the demonstrators, will be the tightest in its history and senior police officers will liaise with Edinburgh’s main business centres, particularly those in the financial sector, to make sure they are adequately protected from attack.

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Parliament receives and acts upon security advice from Lothian and Borders police. While discussions regarding the G8 are ongoing, for obvious reasons it would not be appropriate to comment on any specifics."

The demonstrations on 2 July have been organised by the broad coalition, Make Poverty History.

There will be a march from the Meadows, along Princes Street and back to the Meadows on the Saturday with a rally - billed as an alternative summit - on Sunday, 3 July with speakers from developing countries and aid organisations talking about alternative solutions to world poverty.

On Monday, 3 July thousands of protesters will move on to Faslane nuclear base on the Clyde, and on the following day there will a protest outside the controversial Dungavel detention centre for asylum seekers.

By Wednesday, 6 July many of the demonstrators will have moved up to Perthshire in an attempt to protest at the G8 summit itself, but others may remain in Edinburgh.

Gill Hubbard, the organiser of G8 Alternatives - an umbrella group of groups against G8 - said campaigners will "make sure their voices are heard".

"Bush is coming - it’s going to be big. What you are talking about is the biggest demonstration in Scotland’s history because it is uniting all these campaigns. It is not just those who campaigned against the war, it’s those who are very concerned about climate change, those who are really concerned about world poverty. So it is going to be huge."

Ms Hubbard warned police to "learn the lessons" of the 2001 G8 meeting in Genoa, where one protester was shot dead by police.

"What is concerning me now is we are getting a response from the police that they intend to be heavy-handed on these demonstrations and that is absolutely a terrible way of operating.

"I am absolutely outraged that they are planning, even contemplating, policing this with rubber bullets and having the riot police there. It is absolutely over-the-top and it’s very provocative."

Scottish police authorised to use baton rounds during the summit


SPECIALLY selected police officers from all eight Scottish constabularies have been trained to use controversial plastic-bullet guns in order to cope with possible crowd violence during the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July.

The Scotsman has learned that officers will be sanctioned to use the weapons, which have been widely criticised by human rights groups.

It is understood that officers armed with the baton-round guns will be on standby around the site of the summit itself and in all major population centres, particularly Edinburgh, where the authorities are expecting large-scale protests that could involve tens of thousands of demonstrators.

Last night Brian Powrie, chief superintendent of Tayside Police, who is in charge of the G8 planning operation, said: "The use of baton rounds by police officers is one of a range of less lethal options currently available, in certain circumstances, as a proportionate and necessary response throughout the UK."

Frances Curran, the West of Scotland Scottish Socialist MSP, yesterday lodged a motion calling for clarification over the use of rubber bullets and baton rounds by Scottish police forces, claiming people could come under siege in their own country as a result of the weapons.

Last September all Scottish police forces brought in baton guns to be used by specialist firearms officers, although a single round has yet to be fired. The ammunition, known as baton rounds, uses a plastic compound which is shaped into a blunt projectile. The baton rounds can still cause fatal wounds if they strike a person’s head or chest area.