Thousands of activists and farmers from around the world gathered in northern Japan today for a major protest ahead of next week's summit of the Group of Eight rich nations. Security was tight for the rally, which brought together union activists, anti-war demonstrators, farmers and students in a park in Sapporo, the closest city to the lakeside resort of Toyako, where world leaders will meet from Monday.
Riot police wearing helmets and carrying shields patrolled the park, part of a 21,000-strong force deployed to ensure security for the summit. Violent anti-globalisation rallies have marred past G8 summits ? last year militant activists threw Molotov cocktails and stones during demonstrations in Germany that drew tens of thousands of protesters. Japanese authorities were taking no chances, refusing entry to 19 South Koreans, with others still detained at airports.
One speaker from the Korean Federation of Trade Unions deplored the move. "We will not back down due to such suppression," he said, to audience applause. But organisers of the Sapporo rally called for demonstrators to avoid violence and clashes with police. "We should not violate laws or cause trouble to local residents," they said in a leaflet. Ahead of the rally, around 100 farmers and fishermen waved banners and shouted slogans in the park, calling for the G8 to pay more attention to food producers.
"We should have a more balanced food supply in the world," said Japanese rice farmer Eiichi Hayashizaki, 69, holding a straw-woven banner saying, "Power to food producers!" "Japan imports the majority of its food from overseas, so we don't starve ourselves. But the government should stop controlling rice production in the country." Activists from charity Oxfam International warned of the impact of soaring food prices and climate change on world poverty as they performed their customary skit mocking the eight world leaders including Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and the US President George W Bush.
Wearing traditional Japanese kimonos, they sang a karaoke version of the ABBA song "Money, Money, Money." "This isn't the time for a holiday, this is the time for sorting out problems," said Lucy Brinicombe of Oxfam International. "They shouldn't be distracted from finding solutions for the food crisis and climate change." Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, according to the World Bank, setting off riots in parts of the developing world.
Leaders of the eight major industrial powers ? Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States ? are reportedly set to agree on a new system of "food reserves" to assist hungry nations when they meet. *AFP