Copenhagen Protests Begin

SUBHEAD: As delegates bicker and fail to reach accord Danish police hammer protesters.
By John Broder and Tom Zeller on December 16 2009 for New York Times - (

Image above: Police beat protesters in Copenhagen during climate talks. Photo by Pawel Kopczynski for Reuters in NYT article.  

Hundreds of protesters began assembling Wednesday morning at rail stations near the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, where thousands of delegates are negotiating a global climate pact, preparing what protest organizers called a “People’s Assembly.” A group of about 200 protesters were gathering at one station about a mile from the convention center under the wary eyes of dozens of police officers. Another 500 protesters assembled at a nearby train stop, accompanied by drums and bagpipes in a festive atmosphere.

Leaflets were circulating among the crowd instructing them to make for the fence surrounding the conference center, and to lock arms and form a human chain if police attempt to intervene. At 9 a.m., train lines in all directions were halted to prevent further access to the area. According to the Web site , protesters were expected to divide into a variety of “blocs.” A “blue bloc” was scheduled to meet at Tarnby Train Station, about a mile southeast of the Bella Center, for an authorized demonstration and march toward the meeting venue. Police will escort the crowd.

A “green bloc,” meeting at nearby Orestad station was supposed to split off from the main group and approach the center from a different direction. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., protesters at the Orestad station were encircled by police but a handful broke through the lines, ducking among apartment complexes and a shopping mall in a cat-and-mouse game with the police. Several were arrested as they approached the center. Police deployed water cannon at the southeast corner of the center to push back the marchers if necessary. “I can only say,” said Per Larsen, chief coordinator for the Danish police, “that they will not be able to enter the Bella Center.”

 Climate Justice Action, a Danish umbrella group that has served as the organizing agent for a number of planned and spontaneous demonstrations during the conference, has a permit to march along a specified route south of the venue. According to one organizer, Anne Petermann, the overarching message of Wednesday’s action is that the United Nations process for curbing climate change is a failure, and that there are “thousands of other solutions to climate change that aren’t being considered,” she said. Another member of the protest group, Richard Bernard, said he expected arrests and possible clashes with police. “Danish police have been violating human rights all week,” he said.

Authorities were restricting access to the rail station serving the Bella Center, forcing many conference attendees to walk a mile or more in cold drizzle and biting winds. Inside the center, senior officials, including Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and Kevin Rudd, the Australian leader, arrived ahead of other world leaders to begin what was expected to be an intense day of talks to try to untangle some of the many issues standing in the way of a global agreement. More than 100 heads of government were expected to arrive Thursday and Friday for the final negotiating sessions.

The two-week meeting is scheduled to conclude on Friday and organizers were warning that time was short. “In these very hours, we are balancing between success and failure,” Connie Hedegaard, the former Danish environment minister and host of the meeting, told delegates Tuesday night. “Success is still within reach. But I must also warn you: we can fail.” Much of the focus on Wednesday was expected to be on the financing arrangements of the deal, under which industrialized nations would transfer billions of dollars annually to poor nations to help them cope with a changing climate.

One of the proposals to be discussed Wednesday was put forward by Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, who has been in talks with Mr. Brown, President Obama and other leaders. The amount and timing of payments was still under discussion. Norway and Mexico have also offered a financing plan, which envisions annual payments to developing countries substantially higher than the $10 billion annual figure that Mr. Obama said the United States would support in the near term. Developing countries have said that they will need $100 billion to $200 billion a year by 2020 to pay for low-carbon energy development and adaptation to global warming changes.

Outside the hall, police searched the bags of potential protesters and watched warily as crowds began to gather at rail stops within walking distance of the Bella Center. Ms. Petermann said that a number of demonstrators have credentials for the Bella Center, and plan to stage a mass walkout timed to meet those demonstrators attempting to breach the perimeter. She also said that several official country delegations, including members the Bolivian and some African delegations, planned to join the walk-out in a show of solidarity with the protesters, although this could not be independently verified.

Mette Hermansen, 27, studying to train teachers, and a member of the International Socialists of Denmark, said, “In the Bella Center they are not discussing solutions to climate change. They are discussing how rich countries can continue emitting and how to sell that to the public. We are not preventing leaders from making solutions but encouraging them to make solutions.”


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