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A G20 summit protester throws a chair at a coffee shop window in downtown Toronto. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
A G20 summit protester throws a chair at a coffee shop window in downtown Toronto. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Protests turn violent: storefronts smashed, police cars set ablaze Add to ...

Thousands of protesters took over the streets of downtown Toronto on Saturday as isolated groups of demonstrators burned police cars, smashed windows and confronted riot police.

Black-clad protesters with bandanas covering their faces, mingling with many others in regular clothing, moved around the city centre, bringing it to a virtual standstill.

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Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told a news conference Saturday evening that his officers fought back with tear gas and plastic bullets, and have arrested at least 103 people, although that number is climbing as dozens of arrests are being reported late Saturday evening.

"Members of this group will continue to engage in criminal acts" throughout the night, the chief predicted.

Follow the latest updates from Globe reporters on the scene

Chief Blair said the main goal of police is to protect the site of the G20 summit in the downtown core - the target of the protesters' anger - and to protect the public.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor David Miller also condemned the violence.

"Free speech is a principle of our democracy, but the thugs that prompted violence earlier today represent in no way, shape or form the Canadian way of life," Mr. Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas said in a statement.

A police car burns in the financial district of Toronto, set ablaze by G20 protestors.

Around 7:30 p.m. ET, tight lines of riot police - some with weapons drawn - moved to take control of Queen's Park, tackling and using batons on protesters who did not obey orders to leave. Officers on horseback galloped around to move about 500 activists away from the area, which had been sanctioned as a protest zone. Hitting their shields with their batons, riot police forced the crowd north.

The protesters then broke into separate groups with the main body marching down Yonge Street while others took University Avenue or other more direct approaches to the site of the G20 summit.

At least four police cruisers were torched by black-clad demonstrators. Other police vehicles were vandalized with baseball bats, including one that contained an officer.

Around 9:30 p.m. ET, riot police pushed protesters out of the intersection of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue, just blocks from the summit location.

Other clashes were reported at King and Bay streets, and the surrounding areas.

Arrests continued through the late evening hours, raising the total beyond 103 but there was no further official word on a new total.

Those arrested were taken to a G20 detention centre on Eastern Avenue. They included two American men who allegedly smashed windows.

Earlier, demonstrators broke the windows of dozens of businesses, including a Scotiabank, CIBC, a McDonald's and a Starbucks. Protesters threw bricks at a CBC van, breaking its windows. TTC streetcars were abandoned on Queen Street and two were spraypainted with anti-summit graffiti and anarchy symbols.

How the G20 clashes unfolded A map and timeline of how a peaceful march escalated into vandalism and confrontations

Protesters intent on getting closer to the summit security perimeter came face-to-face with lines of police in full riot gear in pockets of the downtown throughout the afternoon and evening.

A small group of protesters headed toward the security fence in the early evening, but the perimeter was not breached. Police formed a human chain, standing shoulder-to-shoulder or with their bicycles near the zone.

"It just makes sense to be as close to the leaders as possible to make our voices heard," said Jacob Pries as he told a crowd of a free path to the fence. Some heeded the call to action and started walking. Others stayed behind to stare down the police line.

On their way, a group of activists tore up sod and plants from a courtyard outside the Bay Adelaide Centre to spell "No G2O" on the street. "We just want to put some green space, reclaim the street a little bit," said one activist who declined to give her name.

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