“The message of our protest is that we want a Europe that has rights for all its citizens in a world without war,” Pierre Khalfa, a march organiser told Aljazeera.net on Saturday.
But there were clashes between members of the French Socialist Party and an Anarchist block on the demonstration, in which tomatoes, eggs, fists and bottles were thrown.
Pierre Khalfa played down its significance. “There were some little incidents between uncontrolled elements and the Socialist Party,” he said, “but no real problems”.
Tensions remain high between traditional leftwing groups and “direct action” activists who believe that an anti-globalisation movement they kick-started is now being taken over by institutional parties.
The three-day European Social Forum, which preceded the demonstration, saw confrontations between stewards and autonomists, and activists said there were several high profile actions against unpopular targets.
Gendarmes in riot gear guard a
Protesters outraged by the involvement of French air lines in deporting asylum seekers occupied the offices of Air France, leading to three arrests, and it took riot police firing tear gas to break up a demonstration outside Olympic Airlines.
At one point, the Greek embassy was also occupied for three hours in a protest supporting Simon Chapman, a British anti-globalisation activist on hunger strike in Athens.
The vast majority of the march through Paris, though, took place in a carnival-like atmosphere. Giant puppets, earth-shaped balloons and a huge inflatable GM corn-on-the-cob cut a swathe through the Parisian boulevards as demonstrators from across Europe vented their anger over a range of issues.
Marching for Palestine
One section of the march carried 30m-high grey polystyrene blocks in a representation of the so-called apartheid wall being built by Israel across the West Bank.
Israel’s so-called apartheid wall
“The wall is cutting off the lives of Palestinians,” said Haima, a 23-year-old Parisian student, holding up one block. “To see the reality of the wall has more meaning for people than to read about it in the papers.”
Lina Jamol, a 25-year-old researcher of Syrian origin who lives in London, said she was also marching for Palestine.
“I want our governments to impose sanctions on Israel, enforce the Israel-EU trade agreement, which states that goods from the occupied territories must be labelled, and end the arms embargo against the Palestinians,” she said.
“I would also like to think that people in the Arab world will be excited when they see demonstrations like this, because it shows that Western people aren’t turning a blind eye to the Palestinians, even if their governments are.”
However, some voices on the march were frustrated by what they felt was the hypocrisy of Western liberal societies, particularly their treatment of Muslim women.
“To me, the European model is pure fascism”
“Power is power and there are hierarchies even here,” said Zana, a 24-year-old Kurdish PhD student from Turkey. “France is a racist society masked by sweet patriotism.”
“They wear a nice mask but they will still not allow women wearing a veil to enter state institutions. To me, the European model is pure fascism.”
For Zana, the march was about asserting his own cultural and sexual identity. “Although I’m a Turkish citizen, I’m also Kurdish and I came here today because I’m afraid that Kurdistan could become the next Israel.”
“But I’m also here because I’m gay and the equal treatment of sexual minorities is a meaningful topic for me.”
To those outside it, the sheer diversity of the movement can sometimes make it seem unfocussed but to the protesters in Paris, the issues were straightforward.
“The message of the march is peace,” said Anu, a volunteer with a group called Mother Earth who had travelled from Paris. “It feels as if there’s something special in the air”.
Andy, a 35-year-old railway worker from London agreed. “It’s an air of possibility,” he said. When I asked him to be more specific, he paused for thought.
“George Bush couldn’t have picked a worse time to come to London,” he said.