8 December 2011

South Africa: COP17 Volunteers Beat Zuma Protesters in Rowdy Face Off

Cop17 volunteers, dubbed the "green bombers", clashed with activists during a rowdy feedback session with President Jacob Zuma in Durban City Hall today.

When about 20 activists stood silently in the full hall holding posters aloft calling on Zuma to "stand with Africa not the West", the volunteers in shiny green tracksuits approached the protestors, grabbed the posters and tore them up.

The police moved in as the volunteers manhandled the activists out of the venue.

Filmmaker Rehad Desai, whose documentary "The Weather Gods" was shown to acclaim at a COP17 Greenpeace side event, says he was kicked and punched in the face.

President Zuma told the crowd he was puzzled by the position of the activists because Africa was a leading force in the Africa Group at COP17.

A number of the 20 activists said they were handled roughly, including receiving kicks and slaps.

Greenpeace International head, Kumi Naidoo, who is South African, told the President that Africa should not ask rich nations for charity; it should demand that developed nations pay their "climate debts".

If Western governments could bankroll their ailing banks, they could also fund climate change reparations.

Outside the activists told the media they were hearing from inside COP17 that Zuma was coming under pressure from "the EU".

They feared the conference would come away with an unambitious, weakened Kyoto Protocol as well as a world deal which would only take effect in 2020 -"which is too late".

An angry Desai and other activists said they had come to exercise their rights to express themselves as part of an "open democratic process".

Desai, wearing a New Left Front T-shirt, said he was punched to the ground and kicked on the side of his face, simply for silently expressing an opinion that Africa should not come out of COP17 with a "seriously bad deal".

On Saturday the scores of volunteers who arrived to march in the Global Day of Action clashed with marchers from the New Left Front, and had to be separated by police.

The leader of the volunteers told this reporter they were ANC Youth League members from the wider Durban area.

After the city hall meeting today President Zuma's calvacade was seen racing out of City Hall and roaring down Dr Pixley Kaseme Street. Sirens blared, official lights flashed and the vehicles went through a red robot.

A black-suited man in one of the SUVs was seen shouting at people to get out of the way.

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