As G8 leaders arrived in northern Germany Wednesday for their annual summit, German police imposed strict limits on protestors, effectively preventing most to get anywhere near the airport.
Police officials didn't want to take any chances and came out in force
With the leaders and delegations from the G8 nations and the Plus Five observer countries jetting into Rostock Laage military air base on Wednesday, the summit proper really began. As if to emphasize that whatever had gone before had just been a dry run for the main event, the police made their own statement to that effect. The day started with what could only be described as widespread lockdown of infrastructure and ended with a heavy-handed clampdown on the opposition.
The arrival of the G8 heads had been a red letter day in the protestors' diary from the very beginning. Even though their main target, US President George Bush, had attempted to avoid the predicted mass picketing of Laage airport by arriving a day earlier, there were still seven other leaders to vent anger against. For the past few days, the issues had been the motivation to protest. Now the people responsible for those issues were coming and a predicted 8,000 to 10,000 demonstrators were ready to give them a welcome they would never forget.
Police outnumber protestors
Demonstrators on their way to the airport
The police had other plans. From the early morning, it was evident that the "two police officers for every protestor" rumor was no longer in dispute. The massed ranks of heavily armored officers stationed on roads, bridges and railway tracks were sending out a visible message: you shall not pass. The 16,000 regular police and 2,000 special officers drafted in for the summit were being used to full effect.
With the first arrival due to land at Laage at 10 a.m., hundreds of protestors streamed out of the Rostock Fischereihafen camp towards their own private vehicles and the specially organized buses waiting to take them the few kilometers to the airport while the morning was still in its infancy. Some of them didn't even make it out of the camp car park.
Police made it clear that demonstrators would not get past them
The first full bus was ready to depart when it was surrounded by police wagons. Officers ordered the passengers out of the bus and the vehicle was slowly searched while bags and pockets were emptied on demand. Another bus arrived and was immediately impounded, its human cargo forced to get comfortable on the grass verge. For how long, it is hard to say. Many never made it out of Rostock.
There were alternative routes, however. But security had not been the only reason why Laage had been chosen as the arrival point. It is horrendously difficult to get to by public transport and even more so when the roads and train tracks are closed down. Buses carrying protestors were stopped kilometers from the airport, unloaded and the passengers allowed to continue to a specified containment point away from Laage on foot. And these were the lucky ones. Mysteriously coincidental train malfunctions paralyzed the rail system just after rush hour leaving many protestors stranded and angry. This would later contribute to frustration and violence.
Few get through
Police officers redirected protestors
Those who had set out just in time to avoid the main lockdown of the transport system around Laage were met at the containment points by rows of riot police. The plan had been to picket the airport at four main sites around its perimeter. With numbers expected in the region of 8,000 demonstrators, it had been planned that around 2,000 would go to each. The road blocks and train cancellations had contributed to a massive decimation of those numbers. The few hundred which had gathered at the mouth of the airport's service road milled around in front of the police, some muttering nervously about the prevalence of Unit 23, the hardest and most uncompromising officers bandied together from various forces to create an elite division.
Various attempts to begin the demonstration were stopped by senior police officers. There would be protests allowed, but only 50 people at a time would be let through the cordons to demonstrate at the airport's gates. From an expected crowd of 2,000, as few as 37 protestors eventually made it to the gate. Once there, over 70 police officers blocked the entrance and forced the small group of protestors onto a grass verge opposite and held them there for an hour.
Meanwhile, reports were phoned in to the group leader from an associate at Bad Doberan about a major incident involving over a thousand protestors who had been denied the chance to travel to Laage and a large contingent of riot police. According to the source in Bad Doberan, clashes had escalated quickly and tear gas and water cannons were being used to quell the unrest. There was even an unsubstantiated report that a badly injured protestor had been denied medical assistance by police officers.
The mood of those at Laage was already deflated before hearing this. The planned blockade and show of strength had been turned into a pathetic joke by a well-coordinated and ruthless police operation. By denying access to thousands and controlling to the footstep the movements of those which did make it to the boundaries of the airport, the police effectively removed all opposition at the point of entry for the G8 leaders.
And in Bad Doberan, they showed that they had learned the mistakes of the weekend where sheer numbers could not make up for the lack of preparation in dealing with a rioting mob. On Wednesday, the police struck hard and fast to end the unrest. They more than made up for their shortcomings on previous unruly days. On Wednesday, they could claim a victory. Only in the future will it really be clear what was lost.