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G20: Protesters want focus on people, not finance

French police officers are seen during a training session in Nice ahead of the G20 summit of Cannes, southeastern France, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. G20 leaders will gather in Cannes for the final summit of France's presidency Nov. 3 and 4, 2011 French police officers are seen during a training session in Nice ahead of the G20 summit of Cannes, southeastern France, Monday, Oct. 31, 2011. G20 leaders will gather in Cannes for the final summit of France's presidency Nov. 3 and 4, 2011 (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
By Jean-Marie Godard
Associated Press / November 1, 2011

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NICE, France—Thousands of protesters -- some naked except for pointed Robin Hood caps -- converged Tuesday on the French Riviera, urging the Group of 20 leading economies to focus on spreading global largesse on people instead of saving banks and pleasing financial markets.

Police helicopters scanned the sunny coast as a festive crowd marched through Nice accompanied by drumbeats. "Peasants Before Finance," "Life, not the Market" read banners carried by the demonstrators.

Scores of French and international activist groups with a range of missions -- from a tax on financial transactions to better environmental protection and fairer labor laws -- are organizing protests around the summit of G-20 leaders in Cannes on Thursday and Friday.

While some of their goals overlap with that of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to cities around North America and Europe, the protesters in Nice have not latched onto the Occupy name. The protesters here planned their actions many months ago and are pushing agendas that they have long championed.

During Tuesday's march, some protesters dressed as clowns performed in front of police in anti-riot gear.

Activists from Oxfam took off their clothes but left on their Robin Hood hats as part of their push for a small tax on all international financial transactions that would be used for development aid to poorer nations.

While summit host French President Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed support for a financial transaction tax, this week's meetings will be focused elsewhere: on keeping Greece from defaulting and helping Europe overcome its debt crises, which have threatened the global recovery, rocked financial markets and hurt banks holding Greek debt.

Protesters are planning to march Thursday on nearby Monaco, known for its friendly tax laws, to urge an end to tax havens.

Security is a major concern for this week's protests. More than 12,000 police and other security officers are deployed to maintain order throughout the area, with police speedboats stationed in front of luxury yachts in the Riviera harbors and parts of the famed Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes closed to the public with steel fences.

"We have had a complicated year on the international level what with the death of Osama bin Laden, interventions notably in Libya with an intense and charged sitiuation there. So the terrorist threat level is heightened to a reinforced code red," French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

"Even if the public and the demonstration organizers want the protest to be a peaceful one and to take place in the best possible way, there is nonetheless the risk that on the margins of this demonstration there could be small groups that could infiltrate the demonstration with no other desire than to cause trouble and we're particularly wary of that."

Police in France, where protests and strikes are a common form of public debate and can occasionally degenerate into violence, are well-versed in crowd control and not shy about using tear gas to disperse rowdy demonstrators.

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Associated Press videojournalists Paolo Santalucia in Nice and Jeffrey Schaeffer in Cannes, France, contributed to this report.