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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Danish police beat back massed climate protesters outside the Bella Center in Copenhagen

Danish police beat back massed climate protesters outside the Bella Center in Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN — Police officers fired tear gas and wielded batons on Wednesday to beat back hundreds of demonstrators outside the global climate meeting here, as a police spokesman said 250 people had been arrested.

Police clash with protesters at a roadblock near the venue of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Wednesday. Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

The police tried to disperse the chanting, drum-beating protesters who had marched from a train station about a mile away to try to make their way to the Bella Center, where representatives from nearly 200 countries are meeting to try to reach an accord on climate change. A group of 50 to 100 delegates emerged from the convention center, seeking to meet with the protesters, but they, too, were driven back by the police.

In another development, the Danish chairwoman of the conference, Connie Hedegaard, said she was stepping down and that the Danish prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, would take her place as heads of state from around the world begin arriving in Copenhagen. Ms. Hedegaard, a conservative, was Denmark’s minister of climate and energy and her placement as chairwoman of the conference was seen as part of a shifting of global environmental issues from the fringe into the political mainstream.

In Wednesday’s demonstrations, the largest so far of the conference, the protesters began massing north of the center shortly before noon and pressed into a tight line of riot police blocking access to the hall. Some of the officers wielded truncheons against the chanting, shoving protesters in a close-order scrum. News agencies reported that tear gas was fired at the crowd.After forcibly removing protesters from a truck parked in an intersection outside the Bella Center, police in blue vans kept moving the protesters backwards, nearly pushing some into a watery marsh.

As the police vans advanced, skirmishes broke out with protesters who formed human chains and chanted their commitment to nonviolence and to helping people in parts of the world that they said would be hardest hit by climate change. A number of protesters encouraged individual groups to keep pushing against the police.

Police deployed water cannon at the southeast corner of the center to push back the marchers if necessary. “I can only say,” said Per Larsen, chief coordinator for the Danish police, “that they will not be able to enter the Bella Center.”

Climate Justice Action, a Danish umbrella group that has served as the organizing agent for a number of planned and spontaneous demonstrations during the conference, has a permit to march along a specified route south of the venue.

According to one organizer, Anne Petermann, the overarching message of Wednesday’s action is that the United Nations process for curbing climate change is a failure, and that there are “thousands of other solutions to climate change that aren’t being considered,” she said.

Another member of the protest group, Richard Bernard, said he expected arrests and possible clashes with police. “Danish police have been violating human rights all week,” he said.

Authorities were restricting access to the rail station serving the Bella Center, forcing many conference attendees to walk a mile or more in cold drizzle and biting winds.

Groups of delegates and members of nongovernmental organizations continued to stream on foot past subway stations that had been closed to prevent demonstrators from converging. They passed groups of detained protesters seated in neat rows, their hands tied with plastic police strips. Behind a department store, about a dozen detained protesters under police guard chanted anti-capitalist slogans.

Inside the center, ssenior officials, including Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and Kevin Rudd, the Australian leader, arrived ahead of other world leaders to begin what was expected to be an intense day of talks to try to untangle some of the many issues standing in the way of a global agreement.

Negotiators debated until just before dawn without setting new goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or for financing poorer countries’ efforts to cope with coming climate change, key elements of any deal, The Associated Press reported.

"I regret to report we have been unable to reach agreement," John Ashe of Antigua, chairman of one negotiating group, said to the full 193-nation conference later Wednesday morning, The A.P. said.More than 100 heads of government were expected to arrive for the final negotiating sessions. The two-week meeting is scheduled to conclude on Friday and organizers were warning that time was short.

“In these very hours, we are balancing between success and failure,” Ms. Hedegaard told delegates Tuesday night before she stepped down. “Success is still within reach. But I must also warn you: we can fail.”

Much of the focus on Wednesday was expected to be on the financing arrangements of the deal, under which industrialized nations would transfer billions of dollars annually to poor nations to help them cope with a changing climate.

One of the proposals to be discussed Wednesday was put forward by Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, who has been in talks with Mr. Brown, President Obama and other leaders. The amount and timing of payments was still under discussion.

Norway and Mexico have also offered a financing plan, which envisions annual payments to developing countries substantially higher than the $10 billion annual figure that Mr. Obama said the United States would support in the near term.

Developing countries have said that they will need $100 billion to $200 billion a year by 2020 to pay for low-carbon energy development and adaptation to global warming changes.

Outside the hall, police searched the bags of potential protesters and watched warily as crowds began to gather at rail stops within walking distance of the Bella Center.

Mette Hermansen, 27, studying to train teachers, and a member of the International Socialists of Denmark, said, “In the Bella Center they are not discussing solutions to climate change. They are discussing how rich countries can continue emitting and how to sell that to the public. We are not preventing leaders from making solutions but encouraging them to make solutions.”

James Kanter contributed reporting from Copenhagen, and Jack Healy contributed reporting from New York.


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