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Evian Braces for Protests

As thousands of protesters descend on Switzerland and France in preparation for Sunday's G8 summit, authorities implement measures to insure Evian will not become the next Genoa or Seattle.

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The protesters are already making their points, even before world leaders arrive on Sunday.

French authorities have sealed off the small French border town of Evian-les-Bains in preparation for this year's G8 summit of the seven most industrialized countries and Russia, which kicks off Sunday and runs through June 3.

Surrounded by mountains and accessible mostly by winding roads, the French chose the resort town because its rugged terrain makes it easier to seal and control movements. Officials were anxious to prevent anti-G8 protesters -- 100,000 to 250,000 of whom are expected to turn up -- from disrupting the policy meeting.

A violent trend

In recent years international political and economic conferences have increasingly been accompanied by protests from the anti-globalization movement. Seattle, Prague and Gothenburg have all become synonymous with the violent clashes between police and demonstrators that have plagued meetings of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the European Union and the Group of 8.

In July 2001, police brutality -- punctuated by the killing of 23-year-old protestor Carlo Giuliani -- overshadowed a meeting of the G8 there.

This time, French officials and their neighbors in Switzerland are determined to save Evian -- a town whose name is famous for the water it bottles -- from the same fate. The two countries have been working together to beef up security. Surface-to-air missiles and radar warning systems have been installed to protect the world leaders gathering, and all flights have been banned over the city's airspace.

With much of Evian sealed off from outsiders, most of the protests are expected to take place in the nearby French town Annemasse and Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland. France has sent nearly 15,000 police, soldiers and emergency workers to the area. Switzerland has drafted thousands of police and enlisted the help of 1,000 German troops to ensure safety at Geneva's international airport, where the G8 leaders are expected to arrive.

Alternative summit

Thousands of protesters travelled in chartered trains to Annemasse and Geneva on Thursday for a three-day alternative gathering, dubbed the "Summit for a Different World," with seminars on hot-button topics like ending poverty and improving the environment.

The G8's opponents represent a wide range of groups, from anarchists to gay rights advocates, humanitarians to farmers and Christians to proponents calling for Third World debt relief. Four "anti-capitalist" villages set up in the area will offer visitors alternatives to the G8's vision.

G8 Proteste

A demonstrator throws a Molotov cocktail.

"The G8 is illegitimate and its policies are harmful to the people of the planet. We have to get rid of it," Jacques Nikonoff, president of the anti-globalization group Attac, told the French newspaper 20 Minutes.

Protest marches have already begun and are meant to lead up to a final large demonstration with up to 200,000 people on Sunday, when the G8 leaders are scheduled to arrive in Evian. Protesters will be fueled by the presence of U.S. President George W. Bush on a continent were millions demonstrated against the recent U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Disruptions planned

Organizers say the protesters will block summit participants from reaching their conference rooms in Evian. But with most G8 leaders being airlifted to the site by helicopter, their best chance may be to hinder the delegates and summit officials who need to drive from Geneva or take a ferry across the lake to attend the meeting.

Still, anti-summit organizers too are going out of their way to avoid the violence that marred the Genoa summit. Operating under the motto "No Genoa in Evian," the protest leaders have pledged not to allow a repeat of 2001's violence.

"We've taken steps, and those involved in vandalism and violence will be condemned in advance," Nikonoff said. "They are not part of the alternative world movement."

Riots aren't to be expected, Lukas Engelmann, coordinator for Attac Germany, told the Associated Press. He predicted smaller scuffles, but said the hardcore violent groups weren't interested in Evian. Instead, he warned, they were preparing for the European Union summit in Thessaloniki, Greece in late June.

Footing the bill

Meanwhile, officials in Geneva greeted the anti-summit visitors on Thursday with around 70,000 flyers emphasizing that the United Nations' European headquarters was a city of peace and tolerance.

But Switzerland isn't very happy about having to carry a large share of the summit burden. The costs for providing security have been estimated at more than €26 million ($31 million), most of the which will be shouldered by Swiss taxpayers, Swiss Radio's Web site Swissinfo reported.

Geneva's Chamber of Commerce fears that the loss of business suffered by the local community will add up to another €33 to 65 million. "All companies [in the Geneva area] will experience a slowdown from Thursday that will run until Monday or Tuesday," Patrick Mayer a member of the chamber of commerce's management committee, told Swissinfo. "That slowdown obviously carries a pretty tremendous cost."

The financial impact could be compounded by tight security that keeps employees from going to work and consumers from shopping. Furthermore, vacationers are steering clear of the area, leaving hotel bookings down by as much as 50 percent.

Already on Thursday the majority of the shops in Geneva's city center had been boarded up, and many residents had left town on vacation.

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