Many activists condemn Copenhagen police tactics at Friday march, while Bellona says to refocus on climate deal

Publish date: December 12, 2009

COPENHAGEN – Numerous climate change groups have harshly criticised the city police department’s handling of a demonstration that may have been as large as 100,000 that marched six kilometres yesterday from on of Copenhagen’s central squares to the Bella Center, where climate negotiations are taking place.

At final count, Copenhagen Police spokesman Lars Borg said 968 people had been detained during the march, most of which were so-called preventative detentions, and that all but about 50, who will face criminal charges, were being released Saturday morning.

Some 50 of the marchers who where rounded up will be charged, said police, as they had been arrested in the process of smashing storefront windows and setting off fireworks. Many of them also wore ski masks to hide their identities, which Borg said was in contravention of Danish laws on public demonstrations.

Borg was quick to finger these masked activists as the main source of trouble, and said they were part of a large group of protestors who had organised themselves into a so-called “black-bloc.”

Officers then decided to “seal off” the group from the march, which resulted in the temporary detention of hundreds of others not affiliated with the group. Officers who had participated in the arrests also said that they had issued ample warning to demonstrators to steer clear of the “black-bloc,”

The result was that hundreds of marchers, mostly young people, were detained and held handcuffed in groups on the streets for hours, without access to communication or sanitary facilities while police busses circled the city to bring in more detainees.

Borg confirmed that issues of proximity to the “black-bloc” had been a problem, and that many of those detained were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also said that many other has simply failed to heed, or did not under stand, police orders. Upon release this morning, it was apparent that about only one out of every 10 people detained by police bore any alleged criminal culpability, he said. Police have yet to release figures of foreigners they detained.

“It is unfortunate that a few violently minded individuals among the crowd of some 100,000 protesters interfered with the rights of thousands of others and marred what would have otherwise been a perfectly peaceful demonstration,” said Bellona’s international director Svend Soeyland.

“Bellona applauds the work of the Copenhagen police to secure the city for COP15 participants as a whole, and can only regret that some 10 percent of those taken into custody yesterday are actually alleged to be guilty of any criminal activity during the march,” he said.  

“These few rotten apples owe an apology to those who exercised their democratic rights to assembly and free speech, as their activities are diverting attention from the real issue at hand here in Copenhagen, so we should move on and get back to business,” he said.

Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement and Climate Justice Action weighed heavily against the police for what they said was a heavy handed squashing of the march.

“People were very scared and they were held for about four hours on the ground. They weren’t able to have any medical attention, any water, and weren’t allowed to have any toilet facilities,” said Evans.

“People were there in freezing conditions urinating on themselves and being held in lines like, essentially like animals,” she said.

Meanwhile, ministers have started arriving to join other delegates at the Bella Centre for the UN summit, which runs for another week, which is expected to intensity the pace of negotiations.

Documents prepared by leaders of the conference call on developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 percent and 45 percent of 1990 levels by 2020.

On Saturday, the EU joined the United States in criticising a draft agreement that says developing nations would only reduce their emissions if they receive financial help. The EU has offered developing nations a €7.2bn-euro ($10.6bn) three-year deal called the “fast start” programme.

But developing nations have shot back that this money is only repackaged financing that had already been promised to them in other agreements.

During what was otherwise a colourful and celebrity studded march, demonstrators carried placards reading “Bla, Bla, Bla – Action Now,” “Nature does not compromise,” and “There is no Plan B because there is no Planet B.”

A police statement issued last night said the arrests had “produced a huge amount of pressure” on officers responsible for transporting, receiving and registering detainees.

“This (meant) a large number of detainees got to sit disproportionately long on the street before transportation was possible. Copenhagen Police will evaluate if there is an opportunity for a faster way of transporting detainees away from the scene in the future,” it added.

But the massive scale of arrests were also the result of a Danish law that was quickly hustled through parliament last month allowing police to detain people at demonstrations who appear to intend to do harm, according to the Danish rights website

With the arrival this coming week of heads of state, security will be tighter and there are more demonstrations planned, said Borg. But he added that police and demonstration organisers were in contact to better coordinate their efforts.

“We also received many calls of thanks from the yesterday’s demonstrators themselves who wanted to that us for protecting them from bad elements in the crowd,” said Borg.

“People wish to demonstrate peacefully and they have a right to do that.”

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