Riot cops bloody Chretien protesters

APEC II. That's how the organizer of what was to be peaceful picketing to mark Prime Minister Chretien's visit to Vancouver, has dubbed last night's bloody clash with police.

While Jean Chretien spoke at a Liberal fundraiser, some 700 demonstrators were confronted by officers banging wooden batons on riot shields, kicking and ripping signs from the hands of protesters, many of whom were the same students pepper-sprayed at last year's APEC summit.

After last year's melee, Jean Chretien reacted to the Mounties' handling of pickets by saying that at least officers didn't use baseball bats.

Last night, as she craddled the bloody head of a young man laying on a downtown street, one woman told CBC News that this time, bats were the crowd-control weapon of choice. "Police took a baseball bat and cracked him over the head," she said.

While Vancouver police clashed with protesters, standing by was the RCMP riot squad, headed by the Mountie made infamous by oft-repeated television footage showing him pepper-spraying APEC protesters and journalists at the APEC summit.

Organizers of yesterday's rally had stressed the event was to be a peaceful "welcoming committee" for Chretien's first visit to Vancouver since the APEC summit. But there were some anonymous calls for violence; posters inviting people to a Riot at the Hyatt were put up around town Monday and Tuesday.

Picketing began peacefully in the early evening, but within a few hours it escalated into a tense standoff as crowds tried to move through barricades around the hotel where Chretien was speaking at a $400-a-plate, Liberal dinner.

At least two people were injured when some of the protesters tried to crash through police crowd control lines. Police said eight people were arrested.

Earlier in the day, Chretien said that in politics, protests come with the territory. Indeed, as a student he organized demonstrations against the Quebec government, the PM said.

After demonstrators left the Chretien event, about 200 moved on to a nearby police station to protest police conduct and demand the release of their colleagues.

"You had a massive over-response from police," said organizer Garth Mullins, also one of the students prominent for his complaint against officers at the on-again, off-again RCMP Public Complaints Commission.

"We were met by riot troops who were carrying tear-gas cannons and were very amped up," Mullins told CBC Radio. "They were banging their batons against their shield, marching around.

"When we were sitting peacefully in the middle of the street, they were kicking people, taking away banners, this sort of thing. We couldn't even get our sound truck to the demonstration, they wouldn't let it through.

"Taking away communications devices like that, that's APEC II to me."

Police have downplayed the incident, saying the protest was peaceful but for a small minority who tried to break through barricades and enter the hotel.