Originally created 04/24/04

Professor sees little chance of violence



SAVANNAH, Ga. - Despite "pregame jitters" about the G-8 Summit on Sea Island this June, Savannah's chance for violent protests is "close to zero," an expert on the meetings said Thursday.

University of Toronto political science professor John Kirton suggested in a talk at Armstrong Atlantic State University that residents "can relax a bit" about the June 8-10 meetings.

"I understand the anxiety," said Mr. Kirton, who directs the G8 Research Group and has studied the summits for years. At some of those meetings, protesters clashed with police and businesses were looted. At one summit, a demonstrator was shot to death.

But this year, "The chance of there being any property damage, violent protests, a few windows shattered is close to zero," Mr. Kirton said.

Reacting to those comments, Capt. Gerry Long of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department said: "I would not make assumptions about what can or cannot happen. It's our job to plan for the worst-case scenario," including the possibility of anarchists joining protesters.

While President Bush will meet with other heads of state at a secluded location on Sea Island in Glynn County, thousands of G-8 workers and journalists will be housed in Savannah, 80 miles to the north.

Local officials have feared protestors could act up and become violent in Savannah in the hopes of catching the eyes of the media.

But Mr. Kirton ticked off a list of reasons why he doubted there would be violence in June:

  • After the Sept. 11 attacks, protesters are "more sobered" and aren't as likely to use violence.
  • Savannah doesn't have "a local infrastructure" that supports large numbers of protesters. By contrast, when Genoa, Italy, was host to the G-8 in 2001, it was home to a lot of "old-line communists" who gave outsiders free food and lodging. In that environment, a group such as the Red Brigade could easily join demonstrators.
  • Mr. Kirton doesn't believe there's strong animosity toward world leaders, including Mr. Bush. At the Genoa summit, there was open antipathy toward Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
  • Most Savannah residents aren't likely to support protesters, he said.
  • Protesters are divided geographically - some in Savannah, others near Sea Island - and can't easily travel between the sites.