Natasha Grzincic. On the streets of Edinburgh we caught up with some natives to find out what they thought about playing host to the G8 and the tagalong protesters. Staff at jewellery shop Fraser Hart on Edinburgh's main thoroughfare Princes Street told us on the weekend that they would be closed on Monday 4 July for a 'city holiday' (still trying to determine if that's official or not), which was good news to them as the anarchists were in town and 'they're scary'. Other shop staff took a different approach, many putting 'Make Poverty History' posters in their windows, or else pointing out they were a family run business, and thus not deserving of having their windows smashed a la McDonald's in Seattle.
While penned in by riot police along Princes Street on Monday afternoon, two teenage shoppers from Falkirk were disappointed to see their favourite chain shops boarded up or shut (some with shoppers inside, hello Sainsbury's!). They thought the standoff was 'cool' but weren't too sure why it was happening. 'They don't want the G8 meeting to go ahead, and they don't like Bob Geldoff too much,' guessed one. 'But I don't see the point of the police making so much havoc over this. Nothing exciting is happening – people are just standing about.'
But not for long, as Lothian and Borders' (and Merseyside's?) finest charged at protesters with their truncheons, causing them to run chaotically through Princes Street Gardens (off of the main thoroughfare). 'How the hell do they know who's who?' asked one man nervously to his friend. For it was not just G8 protesters who were fending off riot shields – hoodies battled to escape from the police pen with local shoppers, camera-clutching tourists, tracksuit-clad yobs and news-hungry hacks. From the front lines, it seems the street clashes were caused as much by youths – many of them local judging by their taste for Buckfast, a local brew – looking for an excuse to attack authority as much as by the small group of masked activists.
Some thought the aggression was brought upon by the (heavy-handed) police, who outnumbered the protesters by at least three to one. 'I would like to apologise to the anarchists on behalf of my own city,' said an older local woman, who got caught up in the crowds on her way home from work. 'This police presence is totally over the top. We are being treated as criminals. I haven't seen anything like this since I went on flying pickets on the miners' strikes in Fife.'
While we were chatting and fending off riot shields, an Asian hooded-youth was surrounded by three police and searched for weapons. He had none. On a nearby street, three 25-year-old men were also stopped and searched. According to police, one of them matched a CCTV description of 'man throwing projectiles'. But he had been holed up at home all day. 'Today we wanted to be seen to be part of the crowd, and we've been completely peaceful,' said one of the trio. 'I don't see a point in being violent; it gives people a chance to put the blame on us.'
He added that Saturday's Make Poverty History march had a better atmosphere, but he's not sure if 'dumping all the debt is the right answer'.
Not everyone shared his peace-lovin' message. One family man disappointed with the week's events, the closing off of the town core and the graffiti going up in his hometown, was standing amid the melee to make up his own mind about the protesters. He concluded: 'These protests are a disgrace. I want to stick into these people and do as much damage to them as they want to do to a policeman.'