Police, G-20 Protesters Clash In Pittsburgh

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Protesters and police clashed Thursday in Pittsburgh after police tried to break up a march opposing the Group of 20 summit. Leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies are meeting in the city to discuss the world's economic recovery.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Police broke up some crowds of protesters in Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Unidentified Man: You must leave. If you do not disperse, you may be arrested and/or subject to other police action.

SIEGEL: And they fired tear gas at some of the crowds that would not leave. Marchers are protesting the opening of the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Scott Detrow of member station WITF watched police in riot gear disperse a crowd of about a thousand people who were disrupting traffic. He joins us now.

And Scott, describe what's been happening in Pittsburgh today.

SCOTT DETROW: Well, this began as a march in a residential neighborhood east of downtown. Protesters didn't have a license to march. They didn't want one and they didn't really have a route either. They started going down main street, stopping traffic. Cars were stopped in the middle of the road as these people walked past. I did witness one clash. Police set up roadblocks to break up the protest - that's the sound we heard a moment ago. So, marchers try to roll a big dumpster into the police line, and officers fired several canisters of tear gas, which sent the crowds scurrying in all directions.

SIEGEL: And have the protests been going on throughout the entire city?

DETROW: They have. After the tear gas, the march broke into many small groups. It stayed out of downtown, from what we can tell. Police are responding by breaking up these clumps of protesters. I saw one after the tear gas was fired. They were peacefully marching down the street and police officers swarmed the block from all directions. They got out of the car and they just pushed the protesters into side streets, and that's what they've been doing. There have been arrests here and there, we're hearing from other news outlets. But that seems to only be happening when marchers are directly confronting police officers. For the most part, police are just trying to show a presence and trying to get these marchers to break up on their own.

SIEGEL: And what can you tell us, if anything, about the extent of injuries or property damage today?

DETROW: We haven't heard about any injuries from authorities. Firsthand, I did see some broken windows here and there, some overturned dumpsters. But generally, things were calm and safe aside from those minor clashes with police. I talked to some of the drivers who were stuck on the road and they said that the protesters were very polite to them, apologizing for delaying them when they were walking past their cars. The only real hostility they're showing is toward those authorities.

SIEGEL: And what do the protesters say, describing or explaining the point of this protest?

DETROW: Well, it's a wide range of topics when you ask people what they're here to protest. Everything from the hunting of seals at Canada, to the Iraq war, to general corporate greed. One marcher, Mary Ruth Aull of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, voiced a common concern about the G-20 really favoring the wealthy.

Ms. MARY RUTH AULL (Protester): Bankers and political power, elite making decisions, and democratically, it impact all of us especially third world countries. There's a huge gap getting bigger between the rich and the poor.

DETROW: And you think their interest is in the richer?

Ms. AULL: Oh, absolutely. There are the rich ones making the decisions for everybody else.

DETROW: And it was a diverse mix of people. But I did notice a lot of younger protesters wearing black bandanas, hoods, dark glasses - the almost stereotypical look of an anarchist protester that we've seen at so many global summits in the past decade.

SIEGEL: And the protesters intend to continue through tomorrow as the G-20 Summit takes place?

DETROW: That's the plan. There is a very large march scheduled tomorrow. It is sanctioned by Pittsburgh officials. The question will be whether the marchers stop at the point they are supposed to stop, or whether some people want to continue to try to get as close to the convention center. At that point, of course, authorities will stop them.

SIEGEL: But so far, today, these protests were fairly far away from the actual participants in the summit.

DETROW: That's correct. As far as we can tell, they did not get anywhere near the lockdown downtown area where there's such a heavy police presence, military presence right now.

SIEGEL: Okay. Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's reporter Scott Detrow of member station WITF. He joined us from Pittsburgh.

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