Protesters march in Belfast against G8
Peaceful demonstration watched by hundreds of armed police
More than 1,000 trade unionists, environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners confronted heavy security in Belfast on Saturday to voice their anger at G8 leaders who meet in Northern Ireland next week.
Stilt-walkers, drummers and protesters in Halloween masks chanted slogans against everything from U.S. foreign policy to local government cutbacks as they snaked their way through the city, flanked by hundreds of armed police.
The rally in Belfast was small and peaceful but revealed the concern of British authorities to protect the world's most powerful leaders.
"Corporations are running the world, not the people," said Tom Wright, 55, a Belfast protester carrying a metre-tall model of an oil derrick painted with the slogan "No Fracking Way!" The G8, he said, represented "pure and total evil."
The summit, which will include the first private, face-to-face meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for a year, will take place at a secluded hotel near Enniskillen.
Top of the agenda will be Syria, with Obama facing tough talks with Putin, the government's most powerful ally. Leaders will also consider coordinated global action on tax avoidance and evasion.
The Saturday marchers came overwhelmingly from Ireland, north or south. Organizers said many protesters from abroad had been put off by the location of the summit and the reputation of Northern Irish police as among the most militarized in Europe.
"There used to be a large number of anti-capitalists who travelled to these protests, but there isn't the appetite now," said John Molyneux, 64, a veteran of G8 protests from Dublin.
"Now people are more focused on the struggles in their own countries: Greece, Spain, Turkey," he said.
The next major protest is planned for Monday, the first day of G8 meetings, when activists plan to march to the boundary fence of the security zone outside the hotel near Enniskillen, 130 km west of Belfast.
The meeting will bring together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States, as well as senior European Union officials.
At least 100 armoured jeeps were parked in side streets along the protest route and officers took photographs and videos of the protesters. Police formed a human chain outside a city centre McDonalds, whose restaurants have been attacked at previous G8 meetings.
Some 3,600 police have been sent from the British mainland to reinforce 4,400 from Northern Ireland protecting the event.