APSN Banner

Police arrest protesters at campus site of APEC leaders' meeting

Associated Press - November 25, 1997

George Tibbits, Vancouver – Police clashed with protesters Tuesday at the University of British Columbia, squirting pepper spray at them and arresting about three dozen while Pacific Rim leaders met at the school's heavily guarded anthropology museum.

Two of those arrested were members of Indonesia's security staff, Vancouver police said. The two, arrested for breach of the peace while officers were trying to keep a roadway clear, wore ski masks and earphones and carried two-way radios, Canadian Press reported.

A police spokesman said they appeared to be observing protesters shouting anti-Indonesian slogans. He said the two were released and taken to the airport to fly back to Jakarta.

"The matter is being handled internally (by the Indonesians)," he said.

Two carefully orchestrated protests produced the bulk of the arrests, but students later staged impromptu demonstrations near entrances to the meeting site. Police and heavy fencing kept them well away from the 18 leaders attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

More than a thousand people joined a march down the university's mall, decrying Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Indonesian President Suharto and "corporate greed." Several demonstrators tried to push through a security fence several blocks from the museum. The fence fell, but police quickly put it back up.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Vancouver bicycle police confronted the demonstrators, using pepper spray and wrestling the more persistent protesters to the ground, securing them with plastic handcuffs. One heavily sprayed protester had to be treated by paramedics, but some bicycle officers volunteered their water bottles to rinse out students' stinging eyes.

Sgt. Hugh Stewart said those arrested would be charged with breach of the peace and released.

After talking with the students, police allowed 15 "symbolic arrests." Demonstrators marched in groups of three or four to the police cordon, paused, then were ushered through to be handcuffed.

But officers declined to arrest any more, which resulted in a bizarre standoff of nearly an hour as protesters tried unsuccessfully to cajole police into taking them in.

"Peaceful students want peaceful arrests!" one demonstrator yelled before the protest broke up.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien deflected a reporter's question on how he would have felt if police had used pepper spray on him.

"This technique did not exist in those days," said Chretien. "For me, pepper – I put it on my plate."

Chretien said people have a right to protest – "I did that myself, too, when I was a student."

At an earlier demonstration, protesters chanted, "Shame, shame, shame" as they pushed into police lines, trying to make a citizen's arrest of Suharto for alleged human rights abuses in East Timor.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said protesters "have a rich imagination and are quite free to undertake whatever type of demonstrations they would like to do."

Alatas conceded there were problems in East Timor, but complained that critics of Indonesia often indulged in misrepresentation and distortion.