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Tense moments as protesters flood the streets on first day of summit

Activists march along the streets of downtown Toronto while participating in a protest ahead of the G20 summit.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Thousands of protesters were slowly moving down Toronto's College Street when the call went up: Someone was getting arrested.

Protesters surrounded a small group of police, shouting at them to release a lone man in a blue T-shirt. As two officers took their detainee into a shopping complex and whisked him away, other police advanced to break through the cordon of protesters.

Wearing bulletproof vests and helmets with the visors down, some 30 officers shoved their way through the crowd.

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"This is what a police state looks like!" shouted one man before an officer sent him reeling with a kick to the groin. Another man was shoved repeatedly by police as he lay on the ground.

While the crowd yelled "the whole world is watching!" organizers of the demonstration tried to keep the protest moving. Within 20 minutes, the protesters had moved on.

This first violent confrontation between police and protesters on the streets of Toronto would serve as a template for the rest of the day, the opening of the G8 summit. While there were tense moments and brief tussles with police, the protest largely unfolded peacefully.

The march, meant to highlight issues of poverty and homelessness, was organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and No One Is Illegal, a group that campaigns for the rights of non-status immigrants. It began in the early afternoon at the AllanGardens downtown.

A colourful array of groups joined in, with one contingent playing tubas, French horns and clarinets and a group of young women in cheerleader outfits cheering on the march. A contingent moved along at the centre of the march, surrounded by black and red banners calling for affordable housing.

After the confrontation between police and protesters on College Street, a small group of protesters stayed behind, sitting alone in a semi-circle in front of police lines to discourage officers from advancing.

"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, who travelled from Winnipeg to join the demonstration.

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Once the march had moved down the block, the group got up and moved along to join them.

Later in the day, officers and protesters faced off once again, this time on University Avenue.

At Elm Street, just north of the American consulate, police blocked the street. Officers donned gas masks and readied tear gas guns.

While a double line of officers in riot gear, holding shields remained at the front, about 200 extra officers, some on horseback, stood ready to reinforce them from behind. Officers also locked the gates to the perimeter fence for the first time.

Leaders from No One is Illegal and OCAP encouraged the marchers to divert west onto Elm Street, but police quickly hemmed in the protest, blocking it on all sides. After about 15 minutes, the march was allowed to loop back onto University Avenue and return to Allan Gardens.

Police declined to release any information on arrests at the protest, but RCMP officer April DeQuanne said there may have been two.

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With a report from Anna Mehler Paperny

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