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Hamburg braces for 'Welcome to Hell' protest

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Germany's G20 summit host city Hamburg braced for a potentially violent "Welcome to Hell" protest Thursday by anti-capitalist activists as tensions rise in the lead-up to the power meet.

[HAMBURG] Germany's G20 summit host city Hamburg braced for a potentially violent "Welcome to Hell" protest Thursday by anti-capitalist activists as tensions rise in the lead-up to the power meet.

Ugly scenes unfolded Tuesday night as riot police used water cannon and pepper spray to clear an unauthorised protest camp, leaving five people injured and driving fears of more trouble ahead in the northern port city of Hamburg.

Up to 100,000 demonstrators are expected to materialise during the two-day Group of 20 meeting that starts Friday and will bring US President Donald Trump, Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jinping and other leaders to the city.

Late Thursday, a largely peaceful crowd of about 11,00 protesters marched through Hamburg to techno music under the banner "I'd rather dance than G20".

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Police detained six people for throwing bottles at officers and were investigating a fire at a local Porsche dealership in which eight luxury vehicles went up in flames.

Germany's second city, hosting its largest-ever international meeting, has deployed some 20,000 police around the event sites, equipped with riot gear, armoured vehicles, helicopters and surveillance drones.

A holding centre for detainees has been set up with space for 400 people and detention judges on hand.

Some 30 demonstrations have been announced before and during the meeting, organised by anti-globalisation activists and environmentalists, trade unions, students and church groups.

Most are expected to be peaceful but several will be spearheaded by radical leftwing and anarchist militants known as "black bloc" activists who have often clashed with police, hurling rocks, bottles or fireworks.

"Welcome to Hell" organiser Andreas Blechschmidt said the motto is "a combative message ... but it's also meant to symbolise that G20 policies worldwide are responsible for hellish conditions like hunger, war and the climate disaster".

Mr Blechschmidt told AFP that activists would seek to blockade access to the summit venue and, as usual, "reserve for themselves the option of militant resistance" against police.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said that while peaceful demonstrations must be respected, "those who use violence mock democracy".

Hamburg has banned rallies from the inner city and along access roads to the airport, forcing marchers into harbourside areas of St Pauli and Altona, away from the G20.

Some activists have vowed to defy the ban and pledged "civil disobedience" and blockades to sabotage G20 logistics.

Protesters accuse the authorities of turning Germany's second city into a "fortress" and denying them the constitutional right to assemble and demonstrate.

The city says it won't be taking any chances as it must protect leaders, some 10,000 delegates and almost 5,000 media workers from both the threat of terrorist attacks and the street protests.

Disputes over protest camps which have been fought out in courts in recent weeks escalated when police on Sunday and again Tuesday cleared away small tent cities in public parks and squares.

Demonstrators finally won permission to set up about 600 tents in two parks late Wednesday.

A theatre, churches and private residents have also offered to host some of the activists from elsewhere in Germany and Europe.

Mega-summits like the G20 have in recent years usually been held in remote locations, but Germany was forced by its logistical demands to host it in a large city with a big venue and dozens of hotels.

Many fear a rerun of the kind of major urban clashes seen at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa or the Frankfurt opening of the new European Central Bank building in 2015.

"The choice of the host city is unfortunate," said Neil Dwane, a strategist for Allianz Global Investors. "Protesters will find a journey to Hamburg easy to make, unlike previous, more remote, venues.

"The city will require a degree of protective measures, which may get more media attention than the meeting's contents. Such a result would reinforce an increasingly negative impression of the summit."

AFP

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