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Summit protests

Charles Gardner (The Dartmouth via U-WIRE)/HANOVER, N.H. -- As thousands of demonstrators gathered in Quebec City to protest last week's Summit of the Americas, a group of seven Dartmouth College students traveled to the Canadian border to join others in rallying against the conference.

The summit, which was attended by the 34 democratic nations of North and South America and the Caribbean, sought to develop plans for a free-trade zone encompassing all democratic countries of the western hemisphere.

Eric Smillie, '02, and Djahane Salehabadi, '01, coordinated the trip, which took place last Saturday, the same day in which Canadian police clashed violently with protestors. Over the course of the week, over 400 arrests were made, while dozens of people, including 46 police, sustained injuries.

Salehabadi said that she and the other students joined a peaceful protest along the border because of concerns about the effects of free trade on the environment and human rights.

"There was a lot of concern about the effects of globalization on humanity and the environment," she said.

Smillie criticized the conference for giving free reign to international corporations. "It gives them ways to increase their profit margins while making things harder for people in many countries, both in the third and first-world."

According to Salehabadi, a heightened security presence at the border stopped many who wished to join protests in Quebec City. "A lot of people had been turned back for really ridiculous reasons," she said, citing a woman who was denied passage on the grounds of a prior jaywalking offense as an example.

Though Salehabadi said she and the other students could have crossed in to Canada, they remained with the protesters in Vermont in an effort to avoid the violence in an around Quebec City.

Responding to the news coverage of the protests, Salehabadi noted that the media tended to focus on the violent protestors, who she claimed represented a tiny minority of all those who participated.

Smillie said he detected a corporate bias among reporting, stating that the violence simply showed how strong the emotions were on both sides of the issue.

Salehabadi also noted that the protesters who were present along the border were a diverse group, with elderly people demonstrating alongside college students.

Although the Summit concluded yesterday with an agreement signed by all 34 nations that will create a free-trade zone spanning the Americas by 2005, both Smillie and Salehabadi saw the protest as a success.

"We forced the issue and brought it to people's attention," Smillie said. Salehabadi agreed, adding that she hoped to see greater involvement among Dartmouth students.

"It often takes a push because we have it so good here," she said. "What I envision is more student participation -- we owe it to our society."

(c) 2001 The Dartmouth via U-WIRE

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