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Outrage as police set up 2014 Games protest zones

POLICE proposals to set up "protest zones" at the Commonwealth Games have been criticised by campaigners as an attempt to "ghettoise" demonstrations.

The plans, revealed last week in the Sunday Herald, mean that pre-determined sites will be set up "adjacent to" sporting venues to "facilitate protest", according to Police Scotland. But some protest groups have vowed to ignore the zones, claiming it is anti-democratic and an attempt to "hide" them.

Glasgow 2014 is expected to be targeted by protesters over its sponsorship by healthcare company Atos, which has attracted controversy over its role in work assessments for disability benefits.

Other demonstrations are also being held to highlight gay-rights issues across the Commonwealth, while protesters may also target Sri Lankan representatives over human-rights abuses.

Sean Clerkin, chairman of the Glasgow Against Atos campaign group, said they would be organising protests before and during the Commonwealth Games.

But he added: "We will not go to protest sites, we will go where we want to go.

"The bottom line is these protest sites are trying to ghettoise and neuter protests. It will fail because protest groups will not go along with this. They want to go and meet the world's media and meet people who are coming from abroad.

"What these protest zones do is marginalise protesters - it is to get them out of the road, away from the Games, so they can't be seen.

"Our action will be within the law, but we will do what we want to do, not what the police tell us to do."

Clerkin also claimed the group had four athletes who were willing to carry out protests following their events within competition arenas, adding: "They are not going to be able to police that."

He added: "The whole point of protest is to be heard and to be seen by everybody. What they are doing by making protest zones is denying democracy and it smacks of a police state, like Vladimir Putin's Russia."

The Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia earlier this year attracted controversy for designating dedicated public zones for protesters in a park in a town seven miles away from the nearest Games sporting arenas.

However, Dr Graeme Hayes, reader in the school of languages and social sciences at Aston University and UK editor-in-chief of the journal Social Movement Studies, said the origins of such sites go back to the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, following heightened security in the wake of the 2001 US terrorist attacks.

He said: "In Britain it is quite interesting as we don't have a vast history [of events like this] until the London 2012 Olympics.

"I think this was the first time I was really aware of in Britain there being places you could protest and places you couldn't protest because we mustn't disrupt the staging of the event. It is interesting that in Glasgow it seems like it is also happening."

Hayes pointed out heightened security measures in recent years meant it was also more difficult for protesters to now get into venues carrying banners, for example.

But he added that major protests at historical sporting events - such as suffragette Emily Wilding Davison throwing herself under King George V's horse at the Epsom Derby or the anti-apartheid protests at South Africa rugby matches - were "fundamental to the type of democracy we have now".

Hayes added: "When the police or the city council say they facilitate protest, I think we have the right as citizens to be sceptical about that. Really this isn't about facilitation of protest, this is about managing protest for the convenience of the organisers. It is not about allowing a democratic dialogue to take place."

Police Scotland insists the protest zones are aimed at balancing public safety with the upholding the right for individuals to protest.

Deputy Chief Constable Steve Allen, security director for the Games, said: "Police Scotland will facilitate peaceful, lawful protests and various areas have been identified adjacent to venues where demonstrations or assemblies can take place.

"This ensures the legitimate right of protesters' whilst ensuring minimum disruption to people living in the local area. This underlines the principle of the facilitation of peaceful protest, whilst maximising public safety.

"Police Scotland also has a number of specially trained liaison officers, who have close links with both individuals and groups who intend to protest."

He added: "All events will be policed appropriately; however, anyone involved in criminal activity can expect to be arrested."

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