Police accused of crackdown on marches
POLICE responsible for security at next week's G8 summit meetings in Yorkshire are facing growing criticism from protesters who claim they will be kept away from the participants.
The Justice and Home Affairs ministers from the G8 countries are meeting in Sheffield from Wednesday to Friday next week, June 15-17.
The series of meetings has attracted attention from protesters who want to demonstrate against the G8 countries' support for the war in Iraq.
But with little more than a week to go before the start of the summit, they are still waiting for South Yorkshire Police to announce what restrictions will be in place.
However, it is widely anticipated that the protesters will be kept to an area in Devonshire Green when the visiting ministers are in the city centre.
Devonshire Green is a substantial distance from the venues being used to host events in the city centre.
For years campaigners have enjoyed a positive relationship with South Yorkshire Police over the way demonstrations are organised and marshalled.
Members of Sheffield Stop the War Coalition are planning to demonstrate during the summit and chairman Lucinda Wakefield said: "Sheffield Stop the War Coalition has organised demonstrations of thousands of people – in fact the biggest protests of the last few years. On not one of those occasions has anyone come to any harm."
A demonstration in advance of the summit will take place in the city centre on Saturday, supported by organisations including Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Sheffield Muslim Association of Britain, Sheffield Trades Council, Stop Political Terror, Sheffield CND, Sheffield Respect and Sheffield Green Party.
Organisers hope that event will attract support of thousands of people and a route has been agreed with police, the coalition providing its own stewards.
Ms Wakefield said: "It is a great shame, therefore, that we still have no clear agreement from South Yorkshire Police for our planned protests on Wednesday at the Winter Gardens and Thursday at Cutler's Hall..
"We want to make our voices heard to the G8 ministers, we would like to be seen by them."
She added: "In a city where even the council voted against the war in Iraq we consider it of vital importance that we raise our voices to some of the ministers concerned.
"It is not good enough for us to be penned in on Devonshire Green where they cannot hear us. It would be an abuse of our civil liberties, and a great shame in a city that has a proud record of standing up for peace and justice.
"We are currently seeking legal advice on this possible ban, which does not even seem to concur with the law. We shall not be silenced."
Sheffield's Liberal Democrats are also concerned about the way the G8 protests are being handled.
The city council's Liberal Democrat leader Paul Scriven. said: "Many streets in the city centre including Fargate will be closed off to the public. It is already public knowledge that protesters will be penned into an enclosure in Devonshire Green and not allowed to march, with exclusion zones operating in the city centre.
"The Liberal Democrats believe that people have a right to protest and should not be penned into a small area a considerable distance away from the actual event. They also believe that people should be able to move around the city centre lawfully with as little disruption as possible.
"We are worried about civil liberties issues and that the overly restrictive controls have the potential to cause unnecessary unrest amongst protesters and unnecessary inconvenience to local people," he added.
South Yorkshire Police are planning to give precise details of the powers they will use shortly. A spokeswoman insisted the force would only "seek those powers that are considered appropriate for the summit in Sheffield".
07 June 2005