Resistance is futile as G8 meets in remote Canadian hideaway

Summit site sealed off amid fear of protests and terrorism

Larry Elliott and Charlotte Denny
Monday June 24, 2002
The Guardian

If Tony Blair is lucky when he arrives in Kananaskis, Alberta, next Tuesday night for the annual summit of leaders from the world's eight most powerful economies, he might see a grizzly bear, a bald eagle, a cougar or wolf. One thing he is unlikely to see is any anti-globalisation protesters.

After last year's disastrous G8 summit in Genoa, when a 20-year-old demonstrator was shot dead by security forces, leaders pledged to go back to basics for future meetings.

Instead of expensive jamborees in cities - an easy target for "summit hoppers" in the anti-globalisation movement - the G8 decided to return to the original concept proposed by the French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing: a "fireside chat" between world leaders, the first of which took place in 1975 at Rambouillet, near Paris.

This year's summit host, the Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien, has chosen the most remote fireside he could think of. Kananaskis is two hours away from the nearest big city, Calgary, and will be virtually impossible for protesters to reach.

A security cordon 13 miles wide has been thrown around the resort village. The hikers who usually throng its mountain trails in the summer have been warned to avoid the area, which will be swarming with police.

In a typically Canadian touch, the security forces will be armed not only with the normal anti-terrorist weapons, but also poop-scoops to ensure that the forests of Alberta are left in pristine condition.

Security concerns
The September 11 attacks have given the police more to worry about than the clean up. At one stage, it was rumoured that George Bush might stay across the border in Montana because the White House was not happy about security in Kananaskis. Now, reassured by Canada's preparations, he has decided to stay with the rest of the gang. In this jittery environment, the village's small complex of luxury hotels has to be one of the safest places to hide world leaders.

As part of the back to basics approach, the summit will be on a smaller scale than previous events. Last year, Mr Bush travelled with a retinue of 800 government officials. This year, the total number of officials attending will be just 200. Most of the thousands of journalists covering the summit will not be allowed through the security cordon - they will be in Calgary, 80 miles away, with briefings conducted by video-link.

The anti-globalisation movement's response is also likely to be more low-key. City authorities in Calgary have denied activists permission to set up a protest camp downtown, so the movement has decided to try to disrupt the Canadian capital, Ottawa instead. Only the most determined protesters are expected to try to penetrate the leaders' mountain fastness.

Even without the geographical challenge posed by the summit's location, the movement was already facing some tactical difficulties.

Last year's protests in Genoa were the culmination of an increasingly violent series of clashes which have marred global summits since the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organisation in December 1999.

Violent clashes at the World Bank's annual meeting in Prague eight months later gave a warning that parts of the European anti-globalisation movement were becoming increasingly hardline.

But on the other side of the Atlantic, September 11 has changed the nature of protests. Some of the biggest groups in the North American anti-globalisation coalition - unions, debt relief advocates and mainstream aid lobbyists - have decided that mass street marches involving confrontation with the police are no longer appropriate.

However, the real test of the new-style summit will not be whether the police manage to keep everything except for the wildlife at bay. Mr Blair and Mr Chrétien both promised last year that Africa would top the agenda in Kananaskis - but as the leaders prepare to fly to Canada, the world's poorest continent appears to be at risk of being sidelined by talks on terrorism, security and the Middle East.

The cost of conferring
When Japan hosted the G8 two years ago, officials decided the summit was a grand excuse to pump some money into discontented Okinawa, whose citizens were angry about a US military base on the island. However, the bill of £500m was large even by the lavish standards of previous G8 shindigs.

Last year's Genoa summit cost the Italian government £100m, though the lion's share went on enhancing security, including the installation of a missile defence system at the airport.

Kananaskis is supposed to be a slimmed-down summit, but the contrast between the cost of staging it and the pitiful amounts that leaders are likely to deliver for the world's poor will raise more questions about the relevance of the G8.

This year, the Canadian government estimates that its arrangements for the two-day summit will cost around £140m. The opposition says feeding and housing the leaders and officials will cost tens of millions more.

The estimated total is, ironically, the same amount as Canada has donated to the G8's so-called "Marshall Plan for Africa".

Canada is the only country to have made a firm pledge on the plan for Africa ahead of Kananaskis.

Hopes that the summit will deliver anything like the sums which the US gave Europe in the original Marshall Plan look certain to be disappointed.

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