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Preemptive Lockdown

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Issue: 68 Section: Features Geography: Central Asia St. Petersburg, Russia Topics: G20, G8 history

June 27, 2010

Preemptive Lockdown

Briefly, the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, 2006

by Amanda Wilson

Large summits are nothing new. The 36th G8 summit will set up shop in Huntsville June 25-26. Toronto, a past host, will this time welcome the 4th G20 summit June 26-27. The following is the last in a six-part series of briefs looking back on past G7/G8 summits and protest. Check back each Sunday for a blast from the past when we recap a different summit's official agenda and civilian and activist responses.

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St. Petersburg marked the first Russian G8 summit following the country's inclusion in the group in 1997. Its focus was to be on energy security. Wanting to impress its new G8 partners, the Kremlin hired US-based PR firm Ketchum to improve its image. Ketchum has worked extensively for the US Military and Department of Education, where the company was caught up in controversy for allegedly paying commentators to promote then-President George W. Bush's policies. Ketchum was also in hot water over its use of fabricated news segments promoting the benefits of drugs produced by one one of its pharmaceutical clients.

The actual summit took place in Strela, a suburb outside the city. Heavy police presence made it nearly impossible to access, so most protests took place in the city center. As a result, the summit itself was only slightly disrupted by protests, but heavy media attention aided in the dissemination of protesters' messages.

The Civil G8-2006 project organized international civil organizations to make proposals to leaders of the G8 states during the G8 summit in Russia in 2006. Pictured here are representatives from University of Toronto G8 Research Group, German NGO Forum for the Environment and Development, the Montreal International Forum, the World Wildlife Fund, the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policy, the World Federalist Movement - Institute for Global Policy, the College of France and the Committee for World Parliament.

Ella Pamfilova, Coordinator for the National Working Group of Civil G8 2006 said NGOs and civil society were successful in interacting with and influencing the G8. “A number of our recommendations were taken into account by the G8 but we would like to get better results in future.”

The Network Against G8 (SPB8) organized a series of counter-G8 events, protests and publications. A Libertarian Forum was organized in Moscow, as well as the Russian Social Forum and the Other Russia Conference.

Russia was well-equipped to handle protesters. St. Petersburg Special Forces (OMON) made use of Israeli armored vehicles for crowd dispersal, firing water, tear gas and paint. Numerous ports were closed and the St. Petersburg airport was closed, except to airplanes carrying official delegations.

Prior to the meetings in St. Petersburg, over 200 people were reported to have been arrested, some accused of terrorism, to prevent their participation in anti-G8 protests. Representatives from 40 foreign NGOs were refused entry to Russia, apparently for “mistakes in connection with the negligent filling in of forms,” and countless Russians were denied entry into conferences and prevented from traveling.

According to eye-witness reports, people were removed from trains and buses throughout Russia moments before departure for Moscow. Others were summoned to their local police station, threatened with detention on administrative or trumped-up drug charges, reminiscent of the Genoa summit. Protesters were reportedly beaten and attacked in the days before the summit. The Legal Team from the Network Against G8 registered approximately 600 cases of human rights violations during the St. Petersburg summit.

“It seems that since 2006 the authorities started collecting lists of all possible troublemakers, and many preemptive measures were taken,” said Zhelya, an organizer with the anti-G8 protesters. “These lists are still being used by them when protests take place in this or that part of the country.”

Amanda Wilson is a researcher and writer based in Ottawa.

This story was published in The Dominion's special issue on the G8 and G20 summits in Ontario. We will continue to publish independent, investigative news about the G8 and G20 throughout the month of June.

For up-to-the-minute G8/G20 news from the streets of Toronto, visit the Toronto Media Co-op.

Briefly, the G7 summit in Toronto, 1988

Briefly, the G7 summit in Halifax, 1995

Briefly, the G8 summit in Genoa, 2001

Briefly, the G8 summit in Kananaskis, 2002

Briefly, the G8 summit in Gleneagles, 2005

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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