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Barcelona: 300,000 protest against the EU summit

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Between 250,000 and 500,000 people took to the streets of Barcelona on Saturday 16 March to reject the Europe of the bosses, whose agents were meeting in the last day of the European Union summit.

The police estimate was 250,000 and the march organisers said that between 300,000 and 500,000 joined the protests. This makes it the biggest anti-capitalist demo in Europe, even bigger than the march in Genoa last July, the day after Carlo Giuliani was murdered by the police. It proves that the anti-capitalist movement refuses to be cowered by the US war against terrorism after September 11th and indeed is being raised to new heights faced with an impending war against Iraq which many of the EU leader at the summit have already signed up to.

The mach was largely peaceful with the police only being brave enough to attack the protestors after the march in bars and as they were making their way home.

On Thursday March 14th, more than 100,000 trade unionists from across Europe took to the streets of Barcelona to protest at the EU Summit against privatisation and job insecurity. With banners held high and flags flying in the wind, the mood on the demo was determined. Chants of 'tous ensemble' and 'el pueblo unido...' were heard throughout the march. Sound systems and drumming bands gave the march a bit of a carnival atmosphere and, of course, the weather was gorgeous.

The demonstration was predominantly UGT, CGT, CCOO and TGF. There was representation from Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal. We didn't see any trade unions from Germany, Italy, Britain or Greece. There was talk of large Polish contingent that were stopped at the border. We met up with 3 Polish anarchists with the CNT that had been turned away at border after their literature and posters had been confiscated. They changed their clothes ('We look like regular tourists now' said the one, and he did) and hit another checkpoint, hitching with a Spanish driver, and managed to get in. We were stopped at the border and they tried to say that we didn't have the proper papers for the van, but after checking our passports, they let us go through.

The government stopped four coach loads from coming from the Basque country. They had been turned back from one of the checkpoints. There also was a delegation from Galicia.

So everything was peaceful and very civilised on Thursday. The police were not anywhere to be seen, except on their own protest of about 1000 late in the afternoon. (When the police start protesting, you know something's up.) But things were to change quite dramatically the next day.

On Friday, the actions were coordinated in a totally autonomous and decentralised manner. All demonstrations were illegal and based on direct action. The police had already begun to hassle people the night before. An anarchist from Madrid alerted the spokescouncil to the fact they had been followed and harassed by undercover cops. There was fears that some of the squats would be raided and people arrested before the morning, but as far as I know, this didn't happen.

The actions kicked off at 9am. The first action was a Critical Mass bike ride throughout the city, hitting different targets along the way. The original plan was to divide up the bike ride into different groups and tool around, each group taking on a different target. But the cops were out in full force and determined to maintain control throughout the day. When people started amassing at the Collblanc Metro, the police surrounded them with motorbikes and moved with them as a cordon throughout the protest. Two people were assaulted by the police and 20 were reported arrested.

The next action started from Gaudi's cathedral, the Placa Sagrada Familia. The Lobby Hunt was again going to move around to different targets, but police surrounded them and made it very difficult to execute their actions. Other actions in the morning included a school student strike, Food Not Bombs picnic supplied by the CGT, and a Zapatista mural painting.

The main action was at 1pm in the Ramblas called "Capitalism can't be transformed, only destroyed" called by the March Attacks Collective, which the Autonoms said they were mobilising for. By the time we got to the university at 11 am, the Ramblas was already a no-go area. One woman that we met had been searched and harassed by the cops about every 100 meters. On our way, we were stopped and searched, our passports taken away to be scanned, and then they confiscated our flags. Assholes. We weaved our way through a market and managed to get past the last police checkpoint to get onto the Ramblas.

When we got to the Ramblas at 1.30pm, there were already about 500 young people milling around, waiting for something to happen. The cops lined both sides of the pedestrian promenade running down the middle of the Ramblas. We moved through the crowd to the bottom of the demonstration, just in time to see the Black Block tooling up in motorcycle helmets. They lined up across the promenade, about 20 across and 3 deep, linking arms and start with a yell to move down the promenade. The cops scrambled to put their helmets on and moved quickly around to attack the Black Block. With one charge, the cops beat them back and lifted at least two, one with what looked to be a broken ankle. Everyone ran back up the Ramblas as the cops started to divide up the demo.

It was a media frenzy. And the action itself seemed to be very superficial, without much intent, to satisfy the media. The way the protestors and the police interacted was very strange. I'm not sure how much of this was determined by the policing tactic or by the intentions of the demonstrators.

Barcelona is known for its surreal atmosphere and the March Attacks demonstration lived up to this. It was the most peculiar demo I have been on, not only from the angle of the protestors tactics but also the tactics of the police. There was plenty of ammunition on the Ramblas to really go to town smashing things up, but nothing was touched. All the cafes were still open with their patio chairs, etc, out in the open. A few rubbish bins were set on fire, but I saw no property destruction.

The cops divided up the demo and pushed us down and others up the Ramblas. They tooled around in the police vans up and down the street, over and over. Then the cops got into the vans and left. So the two separate demos came together again and it started to kick off again. Then the cops jumped out of the vans and started divvying the demo up again.

This went on over and over, until finally the cops started to lose their patience and smack people with their batons. One photographer was just standing there and a cop jumped out from the cop line and whacked him on the head. One of the Polish guys we had met before told us how he had been running away and ducked into the market to pretend to be a tourist, only to be hit on the legs as the cops pushed by.

The most surreal moment that I saw was these woman that were drinking in an outside cafe on the Ramblas during this whole action. The police had chased people up past them and were standing there with teargas guns and full riot gear. These women were just chatting away, having a great laugh, without seemingly any concern about the situation around them. There was even a pet kiosk open with budgies and canaries - you would think that one whiff of teargas would kill them.

When we walked down the Ramblas a bit later, it looked as though nothing had happened. That the demonstration hadn't existed.

Later in the day, we joined an anti-GM food demo that again was heavy policed but nothing kicked off. In the evening there was a circus against global empire (yes, a real circus with clowns and tightrope walkers) at the Macba. Plus a march by the Catalan Left youth (JERC).

Today, Saturday, is the big demonstration against Europe of Capital (called by the Campaign against Europe of Capital and War - CCECG) at 6pm. It is to be a peaceful, legal demonstration without confrontation. To me it will be interesting to see whether this is the case.

Before this we will be attending a round table of social movements and the construction of another world with speakers from Social Forum Italy, GR, the campaign against diverting the Ebro River (PHN), immigrant, student, squatters and workers collectives at the Macba.