PITTSBURGH, Aug 26 – Pittsburgh\’s young mayor is taking no chances as he prepares to play host to next month\’s G20 summit, quadrupling the police presence in the city to 4,000.
While anti-war and anti-globalization groups mobilize for one of the biggest protest events of the year, their tempers fueled by the financial crisis, 29-year-old mayor Luke Ravenstahl is readying his own defenses.
He has called in 3,100 police reinforcements to supplement the usual force of 900 officers and is seeking to broaden their legal powers so they can apprehend offenders wearing masks or brandishing makeshift weapons.
"We took careful and thoughtful consideration in making sure that these ordinances strike a fair balance in allowing demonstrators to use objects to get their points across, while stopping those individuals who may use them to incite panic and harm," Ravenstahl said.
The new measures are similar to those taken in advance of the Democratic and Republican national conventions in Denver and Philadelphia respectively, the mayor\’s office said.
Leaders from the world\’s 19 largest economies and the European Union — including US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Hu Jintao and Russia\’s Dmitry Medvedev — are expected in Pittsburgh for the September 24-25 summit.
Local media reported Tuesday that 25 miles (40 kilometers) of seven-foot-high (two-meter-high) fencing will be erected around the convention center that will host the event.
Ever since the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle in 1999, when some 50,000 thousand demonstrators succeeded in shutting down the meeting, such international gatherings have drawn raucous protests with many descending into violence and some into full-blown riots.
British police were strongly condemned for their heavy-handed approach at the last G20 summit in April in London, where 35,000 protesters rallied and one man died when he collapsed after being hit by an officer.
Pittsburgh public safety director Michael Huss said his G20 security team will take a measured approach towards the protestors and act only against those committing offenses.
"We know that most of the individuals protesting during the G20 will be peaceful and lawful," Huss said.
"However, we know that there will be some individuals who will seek to do harm to our city and this ordinance will allow our officers to target the ‘bad apples\’ only," he said, praising the new legislation.
The Pittsburgh municipality has conditionally approved seven demonstration permits and Ravenstahl has promised to make available two protest locations "within sight and sound" of the summit venue.
"We are working hard on defining this area so that groups have plenty of time to organize," the mayor said.
Demonstrators will largely be confined to Point State Park — conditions stipulate they must be out of their "tent cities" by 11:00 pm — although marches will be allowed within a yet-to-be-determined security perimeter.
All public schools will also be closed on the days of the summit.
The stated goal of local groups protesting the summit is to "confront and disrupt the G20 and its political, corporate, and institutional enablers throughout the city," according to their website www.resistG20.org.
Pittsburgh, the second largest city in the northeastern state of Pennsylvania with a population of around 350,000, is expected to spend more than 16 million dollars on security.
The mayor\’s office said it will receive 10 million dollars of funding from the federal government and that the state of Pennsylvania had stumped up another 4.3 million from its coffers.
"News that the White House and state have stepped up to fill the funding gap will ensure that our city has the necessary resources to host a successful summit," said Ravenstahl.