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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Protesters dig in for a second day of rioting as world leaders arrive at the G20 summit

The outbreaks of trouble were deliberately timed to coincide with the summit’s formal opening ceremonies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is chairing the event, greeting visiting heads of government

HAMBURG // Anti-capitalist rioters stepped up their attempts to disrupt the G20 summit in Hamburg on Friday with a series of attacks on police, cars and the city’s transport infrastructure as world leaders assembled for the first day of the conference.

Clouds of thick dark smoke filled the skies above the northern German port city after police and other vehicles were set on fire by violent elements among the thousands of left-wing, anarchist and environmentalist protesters.

Everywhere in the city centre, sirens blared and convoys of police vehicles moved between several flashpoints.

The outbreaks of trouble were deliberately timed to coincide with the summit’s formal opening ceremonies with visiting heads of governments taking turns to be welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is chairing the event.

One group of protesters tried to stage a sit-in across a street on the supposed route to the summit venue for Mr Trump’s convoy. They were cleared out by police but in any case missed the US president. His convoy took a longer, more convoluted route an elaborate, longer route to avoid demonstrators.

As a result, Mr Trump was among the last of the leaders to arrive. He shook hands with Mr Putin when the two men met and both referred to their planned meeting for later in the day, according to the Russian president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who said they had “much to discuss.”

Mr Trump's handshake with Mrs Merkel, when she formally welcomed him to the summit, was markedly less forced than their distinctly awkward greeting on Thursday, when the handshake only happened at all after she thrust her right arm forward.

The world’s eyes are now focused on Mr Trump’s first face-to-face encounter with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

The two leaders were due to meet later on Friday on the margins of the summit. Much separates them on a range of issues from the Syrian civil war to the conflict in Ukraine and at the Friday morning coffee break, they sat several seats apart with Mr Trump flanked by Mrs Merkel and Britain’s prime minister Theresa May.

The presence in Hamburg of the US president, who is loathed by left-wing and liberal opinion in Europe, has almost certainly given an important boost to the level of opposition to the event.

Police used batons and water cannons as scores of protesters tried to attack them at the busy Berliner Tor junction and block streets, bridges, piers and busy junctions.

Demonstrators armed with incendiary devices attacked a police station and railway property in the Altona district and made repeated attempts to break through the wide security cordon surrounding the summit.

The further scenes of violence showed that after the relatively peaceful parades and rallies of previous days, hardline groups were determined to keep police at full stretch. As many as 1,000 people dressed in purple and white were involved in one march from a pier on the banks of the river Elbe.

The German interior ministry has said up to 8,000 of the much larger group of demonstrators present in the city are intent on violence and criminal damage.

Almost 20,000 police offices have already been deployed to counter the threat. But the sheer volume of criminal acts has driven Hamburg police chiefs to call for reinforcements from other areas as protest organisers attempt to swamp the city with as many as 100,000 people in the main demonstration timed for the final day of the summit on Saturday.

Trouble had erupted on Thursday night as hundreds of marchers among the 12,000-strong demonstration orchestrated by the “Welcome to Hell” group battled with police in the harbour area and other locations around the St Pauli and Reeperbahn districts.

Police said 76 officers were hurt as extremists bombarded them with bottles, rock and other missiles. Among five officers who needed hospital treatment was a helicopter pilot temporarily blinded when a laser beam was directed at his aircraft.

An unknown number of demonstrators were also treated for injuries. Protesters and sympathetic medics who helped the injured claimed the police started the violence and indiscriminately targeted protesters using batons and pepper spray as well as high-power water cannons.

As the demonstrations intensify, there appears to be a clear strategy aimed at breaking through successive zones surrounding the summit venue, the Hamburg Messe (Exhibition) and Congress Centre.

Christian Blank, from the anti-globalisation group Attac told Germany’s DPA news agency: “Our aim is first to get into the blue zone, and ultimately into the red zone. Once there we want to paint it with our colours according to our motto ‘colour the red zone’. We want to send out a signal today … to bring our topics to the man and woman on the street.”

The targets of Friday’s action suggested an attempt to paralyse road and rail links. The city’s police force tweeted a warning that attempts on Hamburg’s transport network would not be tolerated.

* Additional reporting by Reuters