Protesters hurling eggs, rocks and profanity-laced insults disrupted what was supposed to be a celebration of the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics on Monday.
A crowd of about 60 anti-poverty activists descended on a celebration outside the Vancouver art gallery, where a crowd of several hundred people were watching dignitaries and political leaders unveil a countdown clock thatis ticking down the seconds until the Games begin in exactly three years from now.
Dozens of police, some on horseback and wearing riot gear, arrested seven people. One officer dragged a protester off the stage, another tackled a woman with a bandana across her face.
Insp. Steve Schnitzer said police anticipated a protest, but nothingof thisscale. He said police will keep the disruption in mind when planning for the next pre-Olympic event.
"We have lots of interactions with this group and this is probably the most violent that we've seen it happen," he said, calling the demonstrators "hooligans".
"They pushed by police officers, they pushed by citizens that were there to have a good time, they pushed over fencing, they jumped fencing and then they pushed the master of ceremonies to get to the podium."
He said the protesters, who are believed to be with the group Anti-Poverty Committee, threw eggs, paint-filled balloons and rocks wrapped in papier mâché.
They shouted obscenities and booed B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell as he addressed the crowd.
City needs to focus on needy: protesters
Some members of thegroup unveiled their own doomsday-style clock at the event, which concludes that by 2010, 6,000 people will be homeless in Vancouver. The protesters said the city must focus on finding affordable housing for the poor.
"You can see that the numbers are starting to get bigger, and that's because we're losing the housingin the downtown eastside, to Olympic speculation and gentrification," said anti-poverty activist Wendy Peterson.
The Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC) did not acknowledge the protest as it unveiled its countdown clock, which is made of cedar, glass and stainless steel and stands six metres tall and three metres wide.
The timepiece willtick down to the opening ceremony on Feb. 12, 2010.
The clock was inspired by the shapes of the Ilanaaq —the emblem of the Games, and Vancouver's natural and urban landscape.
Two electronic clocks are on the face of the sculpture — oneclock marks the countdown to the start of the Winter Games and the other displays the countdown to the Paralympic Games
"With only 36 months to go until Games time, it serves as a compelling, constant reminder of how close we are to welcoming the world to Vancouver, Whistler and Canada in 2010," said John Furlong, the head of VANOC.
The premier attended the event, along with Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and David Emerson, the federal minister in charge of the Olympics. Olympic silver medallist Jeff Pain and Paralympic champion Lauren Woolstencroft also took part.
"This clock that we unveiled today will not only remind us of the years and months and weeks until we actually light that torch but it will remind us of how intense the competition really is," the premier said.
The Olympics will last 17 days. Events will be held in Vancouver and about 120 kilometres north, in Whistler.The Paralympic Games begin on March 21, 2010.
The cost of the venue construction for the Games has been pegged at $580 million. Last year, VANOC needed a $110-million cash infusion from the B.C. and federal governments to make up funding shortfalls.
Originally, $470 million was budgeted for venue construction. The discrepancy, according to VANOC, came about because the estimate was based on 2003 dollars and didn't take into account soaring construction costs in B.C.