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Activists and protesters march along the streets of downtown Toronto during the G8/G20 Summits on Friday, June 25, 2010. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)
Activists and protesters march along the streets of downtown Toronto during the G8/G20 Summits on Friday, June 25, 2010. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

Police don riot gear to contain first major protest of G20 weekend Add to ...

The first major protest of the G20 weekend has ended peacefully, despite several tense confrontations that had police donning riot gear and gas masks as they blocked the march from reaching the summit's security zone.

RCMP officer April DeQuanne said police effected two "possible arrests" during the late-afternoon protest, which police estimate involved about 2,200 people.

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She could not give any details on what those people were charged with or who they are.

The demonstration, which focused on poverty issues, snaked from Toronto's Allan Gardens at Carleton and Sherbourne streets toward University Ave.

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As it passed the College Park shopping and apartment complex at Yonge Street, protesters surrounded a group of police who had detained a young man.

While protesters chanted "let him go!", police whisked the man into College Park. Officers in riot gear forced their way through the crowd and pushed demonstrators back, in some cases shoving and kicking at them.

Protesters kept marching, passing the heavily fortified police headquarters while 200 police formed several lines in front of the building.

A small group of activists sat in a semicircle between the back of the protest and the police to discourage officers from advancing any further.

"I think the police presence is insane. I think the police are afraid of the people. But the people are against the current government, not against the police," said one woman who declined to give her name.

"We're taking a non-violent form of protest -- we're trying to keep the police from getting to the other protesters," said Brigette DePape, sitting next to her.

As the protest pulled away up the block, the group left the street to join it.

Riot police line on Elm Street

Police and protesters again faced off on University Ave., when a group of about 100 demonstraters that had become separated from the main body tried to rejoin the march.

Officers got between the two groups and pushed the smaller one back. Police confiscated protest signs and broke their stakes over their knees.

Further south, just north of the U.S. consulate, police in riot gear, carrying shields and batons, blocked the street completely. As protesters chanted "let us through!" officers donned gas masks and readied tear gas guns, and a squad of mounted officers formed up behind them.

Just before 6 p.m., police locked the gates to the security perimeter for the first time and reinforcements jumped in vans and sped north to the police lines.

Dozens of police officers began to search and ID every person who wanted to enter the area.

A large group of curious onlookers waited with police, cameras ready, despite a warning from an officer a "violent protest" was on its way.

Protest leaders directed the march west on Elm St., but police boxed the crowd in, occupying every street.

For about 15 minutes, protesters idled, until police eventually allowed them to loop back onto University Ave. and return to Allan Gardens.

Most of the protest was more peaceful, with a diverse crowd that included everyone from immigration activists to aboriginal groups to students.

"I want to tell the G20 to go away -- let us go back to our regular lives," said Anne-Marie Garrets as she painted a banner at Allan Gardens before the protest.

A few metres away, Henrik Vierula strummed a classical guitar and offered free hugs and massages to fellow protesters.

"People get kind of stressed at these events and I'm here to provide a healing space," he said. Asked what his message to the G20 was, he said "love."

One group built a coffin and filled it with coat hangers to protest the government's cut of funding to overseas groups that perform abortions.

Another blasted vuvuzelas.

The demonstration is designed to draw attention to issues of poverty.

Mahboubeh Katirai, 55, meanwhile, accused the G20 of putting business dealings before human rights. An Iranian expatriate, she called on the international body to pay attention to the abuses happening in her homeland.

Mr. Katirai, a veteran of such protests, recalled demonstrating at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001 and, in the 1970s, participating in protests against the regime of the Iranian Shah.

"A lot of my friends were arrested or disappeared," she said. "But it was as bad as it is now."

Elsewhere, drummers kept up a steady beat and marchers danced to the music of M.I.A., blasted from the back of a truck.

A police officer pulls the wooden stakes off a pro-Palestinian banner at Toronto's Allan Gardens.

Earlier, at Allan Gardens, police performed arbitrary bag checks on people arriving for the protest, drawing ire from the gathering crowd.

"This is what a billion dollars buys you my friend," said Gurpreet Singh after police searched his bag while others got through unchecked.

Five protesters refused to have their bags searched, triggering a brief confrontation with police. Protesters surrounded the group shouting "let them in!" And "no justice no peace, fuck the police."

Eventually police backed down and walked away from the group.

They emptied their bags on the grass to show reporters. The largest item they had was a sandwich.

Police also asked a pro Palestinian group to remove the sticks holding a banner, then confiscated them.

"The cops said we had to unroll the banner to see if there was anything dangerous, and they thought this was a threat," said Lindsay Hart.

Organizers said they wanted the demonstration to unfold peacefully.

"We hope that people can come and express their anger without violence from police," Mr. Mishra said.

Elsewhere downtown, businesses prepared for the worst.

White wooden boards shuttered the windows at the McDonald's at Queen St. and Spadina Ave., with many other businesses in the area also taking precautionary measures.

The Gap at Queen and Peter Sts. began preparing its emergency plan two weeks ago, said store manager Kate Grisola.

The store has wooden boards in a back room in case protesters break windows this weekend, she said. Staff have also all been trained in CPR and first aid, she said.

"We're ready for any emergency," Ms. Grisola said. "I don't know if anything is actually going to happen, but I think it's a good idea to be prepared anyway."

Workers climbed ladders outside Le Chateau Friday afternoon to stick shatter-proof plastic to the windows.

Other stores in the area, such as H&M across the street, invested in the window coverings too, store manager Brian Jensen said.

"It's just a precautionary measure," he said.

Security officers have been hired to stand guard outside and inside many stores for the weekend. And some businesses, such as Lush on Queen near Spadina Ave., simply shut their doors.

Today's protest is expected to last throughout the night, with demonstrators gathering in a make-shift tent city.

Tomorrow, as the G20 begins in Toronto, unions will join the demonstrations with a march to start at Queen's Park at 1 p.m.

More militant activists are planning to break off from the main protest and head for the security fence around the meeting.

Another group is planning an all-night street party to roam the city until dawn Sunday.

With reports from Globe staff and The Canadian Press

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