COPENHAGEN, Denmark, December 13, 2009 (ENS) – Tens of thousands of activists from around the world flooded the streets of Copenhagen on Saturday and again on Sunday to demand that negotiators at the ongoing UN climate conference take strong action to curb global warming. Police officials estimated 100,000 participants in the overwhelmingly peaceful march Saturday that was part of an even larger Global Day of Action on climate change with some 4,000 other demonstrations around the world.
But the end of the march from the civil society climate conference to the official conference hall at Bella Centre turned ugly. Police arrested 968 people, holding them for hours in conditions described as inhumane. Most have now been released.
Thirteen of those arrested were arraigned on various charges, including fighting with police, but they have been released with a warning.
The day started with a rally in the Parliament Square in downtown Copenhagen with speeches from FoE International Chairman Nnimmo Bassey and others highlighting the environmental and social impacts of climate change, and the struggle against “false solutions such as carbon offsetting.” The demonstrators called for industrialized countries to limit their own greenhouse gases instead of offsetting them with projects in other countries.
The new Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who also chairs the climate advocacy movement TckTckTck, told the cheering crowd, “When we say we want a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty we are saying to the leaders of the rich world, do not betray your own citizens, do not betray democracy because that’s what most of the people in the world want.”
Greenpeacers marched with three floats, drummers, and hundreds of shouting, dancing, marching activists carrying banners.
Friends of the Earth demonstrators from more than 20 countries, clothed in blue, flooded the streets. Palle Bendsen from Friends of the Earth Denmark said, “It is amazing to see so many people from around the world coming together to form a flood of public opinion against offsetting and to demand climate justice in Copenhagen. The flood for climate justice sends a clear signal to decision makers that the world is watching, and we expect them to find fair and strong solutions to the urgent climate crisis.”
The march included people representing Climate Justice Action, a new global network of people and groups who say they are committed to “taking the urgent actions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.”
People marched with banners declaring, “There Is No Planet B,” “Nature Doesn’t Compromise,” “Tibet Is Melting,” and “Bla, Bla, Bla…Act Now!” demonstrating for “a global will for urgent and effective action on climate change.”
Violence erupted at the end of the march when masked protestors threw cobblestones through the windows of the ancient Stock Exchange and Foreign Ministry buildings in downtown Copenhagen.
Police reacted by cutting off about 1,000 people, including some who were marching as part of the Libertarian Socialist bloc. By dark, several hundred had been handcuffed and forced to sit on the icy ground, where they remained in the cold for hours.
Helga Matthiassen, who was detained for an hour before being released, said, “Of course we’re angry – people all over the world are angry about being lied to by governments who are making a corporate deal at the climate talks, and now when we try to protest against this on the streets we are randomly held by police.”
“Not only have we been denied the right to protest, but our basic human rights have also been ignored in this ludicrous, staged police exercise,” said Matthiassen. “It seems Danish Police have a new motto: why just criminalize protesters, when you can dehumanize them too?”
Reports from people recently released from Valby Detention Centre described overcrowded cages so full that police handcuffed people to benches in the corridor. Some people have spent five hours handcuffed to benches without food, water or access to toilet facilities. Several people fainted while handcuffed in the corridoor for hours. Volunteers from the people’s kitchens requested to be able to provide food for the hundreds of prisoners, but were refused by police authorities.
Meanwhile, most of the 100,000 demonstrators lit and carried candles through the streets in a river of candlelight to remind world leaders of their hope for a real deal next week that will forestall the most catastrophic consequences of global warming.
They marched to the Bella Centre where Nobel Peace Laureate and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa led a vigil inside to inspire world leaders to redouble their efforts to address the climate crisis.
Now the chairman of The Elders, a group of former national leaders such as U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson, South African President Nelson Mandela and other influential public figures, Tutu said, “Leaders of the world – We need a real deal on climate change in Copenhagen.”
“Millions of people, especially the very poor, are already suffering due to changing weather patterns, droughts and floods,” said Archbishop Tutu. But none of us will be immune from climate change, we are all in this together and there is no time to lose.”
Archbishop Tutu said, “They marched in Berlin and the wall fell. We marched in Cape Town and apartheid fell. We marched in Copenhagen and we are going to get a real deal!” before leading the audience in chanting “We the world expect a Real Deal,” to huge applause.
On Sunday, Archbishop Tutu, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and other faith leaders held an interfaith celebration at which they rang the bells of Copenhagen’s Lutheran Cathedral 350 times to symbolize the urgent need to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million from its current level of 387 ppm.
Around the world on Sunday, hundreds of churches rang their bells in harmony with the advocates of a strong, legally binding climate agreement this week when more than 110 world leaders gather for the high-level segment of the UN conference December 16-18.
In the streets of Copenhagen on Sunday, police stopped an unauthorized demonstration headed toward the harbor. Several hundred demonstrators were outnumbered and surrounded by police in riot gear. Police said at least 200 activists were detained.