U.S. Olympic Women’s Team Holed Up
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ The U.S. Olympic women’s basketball team was two hours late for practice Monday (Sunday EDT) as thousands of protesters vowing to disrupt an economic summit in the team’s hotel blocked traffic nearby.
Scuffles broke out around at least one entrance to the Crown Casino as police tried to clear an access path, Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio reported. For the most part, however, the protest was peaceful and most entrances to the venue remained open. Police have turned the casino into a virtual fortress, erecting a steel fence around it.
The women’s basketball team, in Melbourne for exhibition games prior to Friday’s opening of the Olympics in Sydney, was due to start practice at 9 a.m. but was stranded in the casino hotel lobby because its bus could not get through the protesters.
``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.
Callan said the team ``had an idea that this was going to happen. So I think we were prepared mentally for it.″
Some of the players, though, were more perturbed.
DeLisha Milton, a player with the Los Angeles Sparks, said she was ``a little annoyed. We are used to being on a tight schedule and getting things done. Any time we have to deviate, our bodies kind of go into shock.″
The team finally left the hotel two hours behind schedule. Police initially discussed taking them down the Yarra River in a boat, but eventually the team walked out of the hotel through protesters, who let them through peacefully, and got onto a waiting bus.
About two hours before the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit was due to begin, protesters gathered at sites around the casino, watched by police in boats patrolling the nearby Yarra river and a helicopter that buzzed overhead.
Dozens of senior business executives and government leaders including Microsoft’s Bill Gates are due to attend the summit to discuss future economic developments in Asia.
The three-day event is organized by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum, a group that brings together business and government heads to discuss the global economy.
Kristen Bartram, who runs a Melbourne computer consultancy, said she planned to join Monday’s protest, which organizers said aimed to shut down the summit.
``I suppose my major concern about the corporations is that they don’t seem to take into consideration what they are actually doing to the planet globally,″ she said.
As an example of corporate greed, she cited claims that sportswear maker Nike runs sweatshops in Indonesia _ an accusation denied last week by Nike executives.
But fearing it would be targeted by violent protests similar to those that marred last year’s World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, Nike closed its flagship Melbourne store on Sunday and boarded up the windows.
Bartram said she would not resort to violence on Monday and police say they believe the majority of up to 15,000 protesters will be peaceful. But authorities have prepared for the worst, drafting in extra officers from rural areas and freeing up police cells.
Spokesman Claude Smadja said the summit was the wrong target for opponents of globalization.
``This protest is completely misplaced,″ Smadja told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
``The aim is not to promote globalization. The aim is to discuss the issues raised by globalization″
Dozens of groups, from pupils at an exclusive girls’ college to homosexuals claiming they are exploited by corporate greed to Green lawmakers, plan to march Monday under the ``S11″ banner _ the name taken from the date, Sept. 11.
Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Green Party met other Green lawmakers Sunday to discuss the protests.
Brown said the Greens were opposed to the growth of a new aristocracy among the multinational corporate bodies who were becoming a de facto, undemocratic world government.
``We’re also concerned about the impoverished people of the world not having a voice,″ he said.
His concerns were echoed by protesters at Treasury Gardens, many of whom wore pins with the words, ``Smash corporate tyranny.″
``I really just want to send a message to the corporations of the world that they really have no right to be the world government,″ said protester Chris Fletcher.