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Thousands join anti-G7 march as Trump, EU clash over trade

More than 9,000 anti-G7 protesters joined a mass march across the French-Spanish border. [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 August, 2019

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Trump and EU leaders exchanged trade war threats as they arrived in France for the G7 summit of wealthy democracies overshadowed by trans-Atlantic tensions before it had even begun.

More than 9,000 anti-G7 protesters joined a mass march across the French-Spanish border on Saturday as world leaders arrived for a summit in Biarritz just hours after activists clashed with police. 

Since Monday, anti-capitalist activists, environmentalists and other anti-globalisation groups have begun flocking to southwestern France for a counter-summit which they insist will be peaceful.

Biarritz is a popular tourist destination that would normally be basking in its annual summer boom, but with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders flying in for three days of talks, the resort was on lockdown.

"Heads of state: act now, Amazonia is burning!" read one banner as the huge crowd rallied under cloudless blue skies in the French coastal town of Hendaye, the slogan referring to the wildfires ravaging the world's largest rainforest.

Waving thousands of flags, they marched across the Bidassoa River heading for the Spanish town of Irun, chanting slogans and playing drums.

Trump flew into Biarritz on Air Force One hours after promising to impose punishing tariffs on French wine imports if Macron doesn't withdraw a tax on US tech giants

The demonstrators were an eclectic mix of environmental activists, families and anti-globalists, AFP correspondents said.

Among the crowd were even a group dressed in traditional Basque shepherd costumes, with red, white and green Basque flags as far as the eye could see. 

The rally ended shortly before 2:00 pm (1200 GMT) with no major incidents, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

But authorities remain on high alert, with Biarritz on lockdown and police deployed en masse in the neighbouring town of Bayonne as well to keep protesters at bay.

Overnight, 17 people were arrested and four police lightly injured when clashed erupted in Urrugne near the Spanish border some 25 kilometres south of the resort.

"I want to call for calm and for unity," French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation just hours before the official opening of the summit at which world leaders were to address the Amazon crisis along with other divisive global issues. 

"We won't be able to face all these big challenges if we don't act together," he said. 

Trade war threats

US President Donald Trump and EU leaders exchanged trade war threats earlier on Saturday as they arrived in France for the G7 summit of wealthy democracies overshadowed by trans-Atlantic tensions before it had even begun.

"Trade wars will lead to recession, while trade deals will boost the economy," EU Council President Donald Tusk said in Biarritz, the chic Atlantic resort chosen by French host President Emmanuel Macron to stage the annual meeting.

Trump flew into Biarritz on Air Force One hours after promising to impose punishing tariffs on French wine imports if Macron doesn't withdraw a tax on US tech giants.

And Tusk vowed that the EU "will respond in kind.”

"The last thing we need is a confrontation with our best ally, the United States," he said. "This is not our initiative, this trade and tariff struggle, but we have to be ready and we are ready."

It was a combative opening to the G7 summit, traditionally a forum for frank yet cordial discussions among leaders from the world's leading economies - but much less so since Trump's election.

European leaders are also using the summit to mount a tough push for action against fires in the Amazon rainforest, despite Brazilian right wing President Jair Bolsonaro's angry response to what he sees as outside interference.

Echoing a warning from France, Tusk said Bolsonaro's response to the fires and his downplaying of climate change threw into question a major EU-South America trade deal.

"We of course stand by the EU-Mercosur agreement, which is also about protecting the climate and the environment," he said.

"But it is hard to imagine a harmonious process of ratification by the European countries as long as the Brazilian government allows for the destruction of the green lungs of planet Earth."

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