Police oppression sparks local insurrection

Jun 02, 2002

At mid-afternoon demonstrators returning to Geneva from the French/Swiss border were met by Swiss riot police blocking roads leading back into the city centre.

police repress demonstrator

This strategy of direct provocation resulted in youths throwing a few stones, contrasting the passive resistance by the majority of demonstrators present. Then German police began launching an attack firing tear gas and concussion-grenades into the crowds. Concussion grenades are like firecrackers, which explode like cluster bombs into roughly 10 smaller explosions. IMC photographer Guy Smallman was shot at close range by a concussion-grenade exploding hitting him in the leg. Left without  medical assistance for over an hour, Guy was finally admitted to hospital requiring a two-hour surgery.
Moving further into the centre of town small-scale skirmishes continued into the side streets. By this time local people observing converged with demonstrators and witnessed anarchists breaking a few windows of a financial office block. Police then used this incident as a pretext to raid the Independent Media Centre (IMC) a few blocks away. This attack evoked memories of the raid in Genoa 2001 against IMC protesters.

I managed to get behind the police-line whilst police agent provocateurs dressed in Palestinian headscarves, bandannas and orange arm-bands marked ‘police’, raided the IMC building. After some time in the IMC centre, journalists who had been visibly beaten were escorted out by the police, consequently released or arrested. We filmed approximately 30 of the (still) masked agent provocateurs uniformly filing out of the building and ferried away in police vehicles.

Meanwhile street fighting elsewhere in the city centre had intensified. The Swiss police, who were struggling to cope, retreated and were replaced by the German police. German police then started firing tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion-grenades and water from double-decker bus-size canon trucks. This action galvanised the local population against the German police, who they rightly saw as a foreign occupying force. From that point on the event took on the appearance of a popular rebellion. The confidence of the Genevans increased by the moment. Sensing the new situation, the German police retreated and pulled out of the area all together, leaving the centre of town completely under the control of the populous. The rebellion led by local youth, mostly dressed-up for a night out, were cheered by large groups of families. Shops not usually targeted by anti-capitalists, such as Lacoste, were removed of all stock, and left stripped to the bone. The atmosphere was charged with a carnival-against-the-oppressed-like conviviality.

Swiss police then re-claimed the city centre by firing tear-gas, finally managing to disperse the crowds. Sporadic explosions of tear gas could been heard around the city into the early hours of the morning.


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