MELBOURNE, Australia -- Screaming protesters clashed with police Monday and vandalized the cars of delegates trying to enter an international economic forum -- the latest target of an anti-globalization movement.
Thousands of demonstrators surrounding the hotel and casino complex where the three-day Asia-Pacific Economic Summit is being held. They delayed the start of the event organized by the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum.
One delegate, Western Australia state Premier Richard Court, was trapped in his car for about 20 minutes as a crowd of protesters jumped on it and slashed its tires. Angry clashes broke out as police, some on horseback, broke through the crowd to allow Court's car to pass.
Court condemned the protesters as a "mob."
"They basically slashed the tires, painted the car, jumped up and down on the roof, the boot," he said. "It was un-Australian and marked a sad day for the nation's history."
Another state politician's car was sprayed with the slogan "WEF kills." Buses carrying dozens of delegates were unable to pass through the crowd.
A police spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity said two officers were hospitalized for injuries sustained in the crush. Two protesters were arrested "on suspicion of assaulting police." They were released but would be charged later, the spokesman said.
The violence quieted quickly, although tense standoffs between police and protesters continued at several entrances to the complex. Most of the 800 registered delegates were able to enter the complex, conference organizers said. The start was delayed by less than an hour.
The forum brings together business and government officials to discuss the global economy. Government leaders and business executives, including Microsoft's Bill Gates, were to discuss future economic development in Asia.
Protest organizer David Glanz said he considered the demonstration a success despite the violence, which he said was limited to the "fringe."
"I think the people who have felt some of that anger (from protesters) have to realize that if they continue pushing through privatization and cutbacks, then they must expect to meet the anger of the people," Glanz said.
Conference spokesman Claude Smadja slammed the protest, saying the WEF was the wrong target for opponents of globalization.
"It is done out of sheer ignorance of what the forum is and what it stands for," Smadja said. "The aim is not to promote globalization. The aim is to discuss the issues raised by globalization."
About two hours before the summit was to begin, thousands of protesters gathered as police boats patrolled the nearby Yarra River and a helicopter buzzed overhead. Dozens of groups, from pupils at an exclusive girls' college to gays claiming they are exploited by corporate greed to Green lawmakers, said they would march Monday.
Fearing violent protests like those in Seattle at last year's World Trade Organization talks, Nike closed its flagship Melbourne store on Sunday and boarded up the windows. Other stores also closed for the day and police patrolled hotels used by summit delegates.
One group inconvenienced by the protest was the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team, which missed a 9 a.m. training session after being stranded in the casino hotel lobby because its bus could not penetrate the crowd of protesters. The team, in Melbourne to play exhibition matches before the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Sydney Olympics, later walked through the protest and caught a bus.
"We realize that there are bigger things going on in the world than our practice so we've pretty much learned to just be flexible," said Carol Callan, a team spokeswoman.
After the summit was under way, Chinese Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng addressed the delegates about his country's likely ascension to membership in the WTO.
"China's reform and opening up will enter a new phase of development and realize new growth of its national economy," Shi said. He said Asia's fate is tied to the positive benefits of economic globalization.
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