Violent Protests Strike Cities All Over World

GENEVA -- Anti-globalization militants hurled Molotov cocktails, bottles and firecrackers at riot police who erected barricades and barbed wire fences in a protective shield around the World Trade Organization.

The tension erupted after an estimated 5,000 people took to the streets in a peaceful rally to protest that the WTO efforts in Doha, Qatar, to launch a new round of trade liberalization talks represented a new attempt by a small powerful elite to put profits before people.

"God is dead. The WTO replaced it," read one banner, underlining a widespread view that the Geneva-based trade body is invisible but all-powerful.

The protests were part of a series of worldwide demonstrations against the WTO ministerial meeting. Grass-roots organizations, which gathered in mass for the last big WTO conference in Seattle in December 1999, say rigid visa restrictions have prevented them from traveling to the Gulf state.

About 4,000 people demonstrated in Berlin against the WTO, and smaller protests were held throughout Germany.

A similar number marched through central Paris, bearing banners such as "Organization of Misery and Chaos" -- a play on the WTO's French acronym OMC. Attac, the group organizing the events, said demonstrations were planned for about 50 French towns.

"Governments have taken refuge in Doha because they are afraid of the people who elected them," said Swiss peasant leader Fernand Cuche.

Cuche appealed to farmers and city-dwellers alike to unite to "prevent yourselves being gobbled up by the multinationals."

"But the struggle will be long," warned Cuche, who last week organized blockades of leading Swiss supermarket chains by farmers angered at low beef prices because of the mad cow disease scare.

Fearing a repeat of the violence that scarred Seattle and other global government gatherings, police in full riot gear sealed off Geneva's banking quarter. Many stores along the procession route closed briefly in fear of trouble. Extra security guards were posted by McDonalds outlets -- usually a popular target of anti-globalization protesters.

Demonstrators were thwarted in their march on the WTO headquarters on the edge of the city by barricades about 100 meters away from the lakeside building. Police also put barbed wire around nearby parks to prevent protesters scaling hedges.

As tempers flared, a small group of masked protesters hurled flaming Molotov cocktails, bags of garbage, bottles and paint bombs at police. They eventually retreated after being threatened with tear gas and water cannons. Police said there were no arrests.

The gathering also served as a platform for pacifists to vent their opposition to the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

"In the luxurious, heavily guarded meeting rooms of Qatar, the fate of millions of people in the years and decades to come is being decided," said Paolo Gilardi of the group Switzerland Without an Army.

"Not far from there, across the Gulf of Oman, without shelter and without protections, millions of children, women and men face death in the course of the next few months because of war.

"This war is in the process of causing the first great humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century," he said.