More than 9,000 anti-G7 protesters joined a mass march over a bridge linking France and Spain yesterday as leaders from the Group of 7 nations descended for their summit in the Atlantic resort of Biarritz.
Since Monday, anti-capitalist activists, environmentalists and other anti-globalisation groups have been flocking to a counter-summit in southwestern France that organisers insisted would be peaceful.
Yesterday’s march took place in the French coastal town of Hendaye, about 30km (18 miles) from Biarritz, without incident in a good-natured atmosphere, with police giving a figure of 9,000 but organisers saying as many as 15,000 people turned up.
Biarritz is a popular tourist destination that would normally be basking in its annual summer boom, but with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders flying in for three days of talks, the resort was in lockdown.
“Heads of state: act now, Amazonia is burning!” read one banner as the huge crowd rallied under cloudless blue skies in Hendaye, the slogan referring to the wildfires ravaging the world’s largest rainforest.
“If the climate was a cathedral, we would already have saved it,” read another, referring to Notre-Dame in Paris, which was ravaged by a fire in April that prompted donors to pledge €850mn ($954mn) to rebuild it.
Waving thousands of flags, they marched across the Bidassoa River heading for the Spanish town of Irún, chanting slogans while some played drums.
The colourful crowd was an eclectic mix of environmental activists, families, anti-globalists, a handful of anti-government “yellow vest” protesters and Basque nationalists, AFP correspondents said.
There was even a group dressed in traditional Basque shepherd costumes, with red, white and green Basque flags as far as the eye could see.
“The counter-G7 demonstration is in this Basque region and we want people to see we are part of it,” said Alfredo Akuna, a 46-year-old engineer from San Sebastián in northern Spain who wore traditional Basque clothing. “We’re involved in many movements including anti-capitalism and anti-fascism so it’s important to be here to show that.”
“We are very happy because it was a huge challenge,” said Sebastian Bailleul of Alternatives G7, one of the march’s organisers, saying that the event had “brought together French, Basque and international struggles”.
“The top capitalist leaders are here and we have to show them that the fight continues,” said Alain Missana, 48, an electrician wearing a yellow vest – symbol of the anti-government demonstrations that have been held in France for months.
“It’s more money for the rich and nothing for the poor. We see the Amazonian forests burning and the Arctic melting. The leaders will hear us,” he said.
But authorities remain on high alert, with Biarritz in lockdown and police deployed en masse in the neighbouring town of Bayonne as well to keep protesters at bay.
“I want to call for calm and for unity,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation just before the opening of the summit, where world leaders were to address the Amazon crisis along with other global issues. “We won’t be able to face all these big challenges if we don’t act together.”
Overnight, 17 people were arrested and four police lightly injured when skirmishes erupted near in Urrugne, a village some 25km south of Biarritz.
Friday night’s confrontation occurred as activists tried to block police from a site where they had set up camp, with police firing tear gas and using controversial rubber rounds known as LBDs to disperse them, AFP correspondents said.
Earlier on Friday, police blocked several hundred demonstrators from reaching a roundabout on the road between Biarritz and the Spanish border.
And yesterday French riot police used water cannons and teargas to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne.