AUSTRIA: Police operation protects WEF

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BY SEAN HEALY

Austrian authorities deployed more than 4000 police officers, including elite riot units, from across the country in the Alpine town of Salzburg on July 1, in an effort to prevent anti-capitalist protests against a summit of the World Economic Forum.

Authorities had made it clear that they would take a hard, repressive line against those planning to demonstrate against the conference of leaders of the world's largest corporations, at one stage threatening to ban protest altogether.

Salzburg is most famous for being Mozart's birthplace and the backdrop for the musical The Sound of Music, but for days before the July 1 start of the summit it was locked down.

Authorities divided the town into zones designated red, where only summiteers and police were allowed, yellow, where only those with authorisation including residents were allowed, and green. Even in green zones, the police were given wide powers to stop and search.

Officers began harassing protesters before July 1, turning out a heavy presence at a rally by a few hundred members of the Socialist Youth outside a McDonald's store on June 30 and then raiding the offices of the Austrian Communist Party that night.

While police had said they would allow a legal, three-hour demonstration on July 1, they vastly outnumbered the 1500 protesters who turned out for it.

When the demonstrators marched off, riot police herded them into a back street and attacked them with batons and dogs. Protesters responded by using their flag poles to defend themselves.

In an operation reminiscent of tactics used against Mayday protests in London, police then encircled demonstrators for more than six hours, before forcing dozens onto a train to the capital, Vienna.

The police operation, unprecedented in the city's modern history, has sparked outrage from civil libertarians, progressive political parties and non-government organisations. Protest organisers are planning legal action against the authorities.

The summits of the World Economic Forum, whose members include 1000 of the world's largest multinational corporations, have been the target of increasing protests, including in Davos, Switzerland, where its annual meetings are held, and in Melbourne, where it was the subject of the S11 protests.