By Matthew Knott in Copenhagen.

Violence is expected to escalate on the streets of Copenhagen over coming days as climate activists, angered by the “pre-emptive” arrest of almost 1,200 protesters over the weekend, consider more radical forms of protest.

Crikey today witnessed an entire 230-person strong climate change demonstration placed under arrest, although there was no sign of violent behaviour by the protesters.  According to the Danish police, the protest had not been authorised; however, until the arrests, police officers had facilitated the progress of the march and told activists they would be allowed to continue.

Journalists and even a jogger are believed to be among those now being housed in the special steel cages brought in for COP15.

A Copenhagen police spokesman said police had found bolt-cutters and gas masks when they searched the sound wagon leading the demonstration.

Danish police demonstrate the special COP15 "climate cages" (Jens Noergaard Larsen/Scanpix, via Reuters)
Danish police demonstrate the special COP15 "climate cages" (Jens Noergaard Larsen/Scanpix, via Reuters)

“It seems totally unprovoked,” Richard Bernard of Climate Justice Action, an activist group opposed to market-based solutions to climate change, said. “There were no meaningful acts of disobedience. Police are shutting them [the protests] down before they’ve even had a chance to have their say. It´s a human rights issue, a freedom of speech issue.”

Today’s arrests come after 968 members of the 40,000-strong Global Day of Climate Action march were detained by police yesterday. Only two have been charged with any offence. Thirteen remain in custody awaiting an outcome.

The arrests have been made under a special COP15 “pre-emptive” measure that allows police to detain anyone they suspect to be a trouble maker.

Climate Justice Action’s Richard Bernard said he hoped protesters would reconsider their tactics. “The Danish police are using the same tactic: getting us to shut up as soon as possible,” he said. “We can´t allow that to happen.”

In today’s “Hit the Production” rally, activists had hoped to shut down Copenhagen Harbour to protest the international shipping industry’s role in causing climate change. They didn´t even get within sight of the harbour.   

Protesters plans to shut down Copenhagen Harbour were foiled by mass arrests
Protesters plans to shut down Copenhagen Harbour were foiled by mass arrests

Police officers jumped aboard the activists’ sound wagon and kicked them off. Police trucks surrounded the scene, blocking everyone, including the media, from leaving. It was a pretty scary place to be, as the following video shows.

After marching slowly and peacefully through the city for around an hour, the first sign of trouble Crikey noticed was a small band of activists trying to run ahead of the main pack. From that moment on things got nasty: everything seemed to move in fast-motion as journalists, photographers, protesters, passers-by, all in a total state of confusion, were pushed and shoved by the police. Officers in riot gear, some with dogs, outnumbered the protesters; perhaps by as much as two to one. “Take a chill pill,” yelled a protester. “What are we doing that is illegal?” 



“You will be allowed to continue with your demonstration in a few minutes,” said a policeman with a megaphone. Ten minutes later, he announced that all the protesters were under arrest. No reason was given. Some protesters later claimed that police had used pepper spray as they made the arrests.

Police and protesters exchange angry words
Police and protesters exchange angry words


Dutch activist Peter Polder managed to avoid arrest. “For no apparent reason the police blocked it in, took over our sound wagon and arrested the complete demonstration,” he told Crikey. “They acted pretty aggressively…It seems to be a strategy to scare people off campaigning for climate justice. We have to rethink our tactics.”

Saturday’s Global Day of Action was a far bigger, longer, more colourful affair. Grandparents and pram-wheeling young parents marched alongside anti-capitalists blasting reggae tunes from boom-boxes and environmentalists dressed up as trees, pandas and polar bears.


Regarding the arrest of 968 people, many initial reports seem to have got it wrong: some painted it as a violent protest dominated by anarchists whilst others, such as the Sydney Morning Herald, said the police action came out of thin air. Crikey understands – through eyewitness reports of people working  where the arrests were made – that problems began when an anarchist group called Never Trust a COP decided to abandon a planned rival protest and join the main march instead. As this video shows, some of these protesters, wearing scarves to cover their faces, did throw stones at police cars and set off flares. However the protest as a whole was overwhealmingly peaceful; most of those arrested were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the police swoop.

The next big action is planned for Wednesday, when activists will try to storm the Bella Centre barricades and encourage a mass walkout by negotiators unpleased with the direction of the talks.

With only six days left to get a deal, things are heating up both in the negotiating rooms and on the streets. Follow the news as it happens via twitter at mattknott_COP15.