Aus police out in full force for CHOGM

2011-10-27 10:51

Perth - Thousands of police flooded Perth on Thursday ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, with swathes of the city declared "security areas" under new powers to clamp down on protests.

Groups of police stand on virtually every street corner in the central business district, where Queen Elizabeth II will formally open the 54-nation grouping's three-day meeting on Friday.

And F/A-18 Hornet fighters are patrolling the skies above the West Australian capital, where leaders from the mainly former British colonies will tackle issues ranging from reform to human rights.

Most Commonwealth leaders are attending, although Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pulled out without giving a reason while Britain's David Cameron is arriving late so he can attend eurozone debt crisis talks.

Authorities, determined that anti-capitalism demonstrators inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests will not hijack the event, have given police special powers to deal with any protests.

Under the new laws, police can search people at will and ban known activists from entering special zones, which have been barricaded and signposted.

Police have not revealed the number of officers on duty but reports estimate about half the state's 6 000-strong force is involved in the operation, along with an additional 800 drafted in from New Zealand and elsewhere in Australia.

"We won't be disclosing exactly how many police officers are going to be in and around venues... but there will be a large police presence," said West Australian Police Deputy Commissioner Chris Dawson.

Protests so far have been small, with about 40 people peacefully standing vigil on Tuesday night outside a venue where Prime Minister Julia Gillard was giving a speech.

Planned march

The major potential flashpoint is a march planned by the CHOGM Action Network on Friday, in solidarity with the global Occupy movement against corporate greed and the growing rich-poor divide.

The network is also concerned about alleged human rights violations in Commonwealth countries, accusing Sri Lankan President Mahendra Rajapakse and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame of war crimes.

Spokesperson Alex Bainbridge said the demonstrators planned to occupy the city centre's Forrest Place for three days but West Australian Premier Colin Barnett said police would not allow that to happen.

"If they're just sitting there quietly with a couple of banners, that's OK," Barnet told reporters this week. "[But] people won't be setting up camps.

"If they disrupt the public they will be removed, but that decision will be made on the spot by the senior police."

Opposition lawmaker Peter Tinley, a former member of the elite SAS special forces unit, said sending F/A-18 fighter jets to patrol Perth's skies was a show of force designed to intimidate protesters.

"It is often seen as important that you have an overt show of security. Nothing reinforces that impression more strongly than having a bunch of F/A-18s flying over your city," he told the West Australian newspaper.

There have been a handful of arrests so far, including two men caught sticking up posters for a demonstration planned for Friday and an environmental activist who said he unwittingly entered the security area after being banned.

"I think it's a bit silly. I'm not a violent person, I've never endorsed violence," the activist Sean Gransch told reporters. He faces up to a year in jail for breaching the exclusion order.

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