THOUSANDS of anti-capitalists have poured into the French Riviera city of Nice for a march against corporate greed ahead of the G20 summit in nearby Cannes, echoing protests worldwide.
Shouting “People first, not finance!”, protesters from around Europe and beyond marched noisily along their assigned route in the city’s outskirts overnight, a sunny and peaceful national holiday in the Mediterranean city.
About 100 Oxfam activists came from Spain, Belgium, Mexico, Britain and France, many wearing Robin Hood hats and carrying jute bags representing the stock exchange, demanding a tax on financial transaction.
“I am Robin Hood, I demand (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy set up a tax on financial transactions. We take from the rich to give to the poor, we want a better distribution of wealth,” said Benjamin Lemesle, 23.
Protesters from around Europe have been arriving since Monday at the Old Abattoir cultural centre where a People’s Summit is to be held in parallel to the summit of Group of 20 leaders in nearby Cannes on Friday and Saturday.
“We refuse to give the powerful the right to impose their solutions on crises that they created. Alternative paths exist,” said pamphlets distributed by the protest’s organisers.
Police in Nice said they had arrested three Spanish men on the city’s renowned Promenade des Anglais seafront in possession of “bolts, mountaineering axes, balaclavas and gas masks” ahead of the march.
Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said the men had T-shirts and badges with Black Cross written on them, which he said meant they might be part of the militant Black Bloc protest movement.
Cannes itself is to be locked down during the summit, with protesters kept in Nice, a safe distance away from the world leaders, about 30 kilometres down the Mediterranean coast.
Groups including environmental advocates Greenpeace, Attac, the Human Rights League and anti-racism organisations are organising the march, with around 2500 extra police drafted in to deal with the protest.
Anyone thought to be associated with Black Bloc protests faces arrest if police find them anywhere in the region.
Around 15 vehicles belonging to the CRS riot police were parked in front of Nice’s train station, with groups of riot police patrolling the station, stopping passengers to search them and check their identities.
Two backpacker protesters, from Belgium and France, arrived on a train from Paris and said they “came to Nice to ask for just a little more humanity (and for) the financial system to be put at the people’s service”.
Paris obtained authorisation from Brussels to reintroduce customs and immigration checks on the Italian border to prevent troublemakers gaining entry after around 100 people were injured in violent protests in Rome on October 15.
One of the protest’s organisers, Franck Gaye, said ahead of the march that there would be no confrontation in Nice as anarchist movements “have called on supporters to go everywhere in France because there won’t be security forces elsewhere”.
On Friday, some protesters will head to the principality of Monaco to “celebrate” the end of tax havens that was announced at the 2009 G20 summit in London.
Anti-capitalism protests have sprung up in more than 80 countries in recent weeks, including a protest camp in the heart of London’s City financial district, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and the Indignants protesters in Spain.
The protests are against what demonstrators consider an irresponsible financial system and for economic equality.