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Protests at G-8 summit smaller than expected

EDINBURGH, Scotland—Millions showed up for the free Live 8 concerts and signed online petitions to support the effort to fight poverty in Africa.

But "the final push" in the long walk to justice—protests this week at which Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof hoped to see a million people—has been less impressive. Crowds in Scotland for the gathering of leaders of the world's most powerful countries have been small thus far, in spite of TV pictures of demonstrators clashing with police.

"To be honest, there aren't nearly as many people on the street as you'd see on a normal Wednesday," said Mairi McCarron of Edinburgh, who believes in better trade agreements, more aid and debt relief for Africa. "Maybe it's the rain."

Or, as one police officer said while standing in a line surrounding a group of perhaps a thousand protesters, "So this is what a million people looks like."

Protesters had been called to Edinburgh and to Gleneagles—a resort about an hour north, where the meeting will be—to help influence the G-8 leaders, including President Bush, as they discuss increasing aid, eliminating debt and streamlining trade regulations for Africa as well as poor nations elsewhere. Last weekend, 225,000 marched peacefully through the streets here.

By Wednesday, however, most of those appeared to have gone home or back to work, though the day wasn't devoid of demonstrations. Several hundred people marched through Edinburgh, and about 4,000 marched in Gleneagles as the G-8 leaders were arriving.

Several hundred protesters smashed shop and car windows in a small town near the G-8 meeting site and threw stones at riot police. Others blockaded highways and train lines for a short time.

Some members of an officially sanctioned march that was allowed to get within half a mile of Gleneagles dashed through a field and crashed through a perimeter fence. They were greatly outnumbered by police, however, and were pushed back.

The level of violence was low compared with protests at previous G-8 summits, when large portions of cities such as Seattle, Washington and Genoa, Italy, have been paralyzed by crowds of protesters that dwarfed those marching Wednesday.

In fact, at the same time in London, four times as many people gathered to celebrate the announcement that the city had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games.

Some protesters said they weren't surprised that the turnout has been lower than hoped for.

"Middle of the week, bit cold and rainy, and the summit is out in the countryside," said a man who would identify himself only as Steve, 33, and who said he'd camped out near Gleneagles since last weekend and intended to stay through the week.

"I've used my holiday time to come down here, but not many can or will do that," he said.

Still, the Rev. James Thorlby, who lives in Brazil but returned to his hometown of Edinburgh for the protests, said the people would be heard.

"Even a small crowd, calling for justice, will be heard," he said.

Geldof said Wednesday that he had no regrets. Earlier, he'd joked that he was known for having his party invitations ignored. But he said the extensive television coverage and large, global support the Live 8 concerts had attracted last weekend—as well as the expected 60,000 at the final concert in Edinburgh on Wednesday—had focused attention on the needs of Africa.

"Things are being talked about that weren't before," he said.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050630 Gleneagles G8, 20050628 G8 logo

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