By Steve Scherer
GIARDINI NAXOS, Italy (Reuters) – Shopkeepers down the hill from where world leaders are meeting boarded up their windows and doors on Friday, bracing for a protest march along the seafront of this normally sleepy Sicilian tourist town.
U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Japan and Canada are holding a Group of Seven summit in the hilltop town of Taormina, which is off limits to most for security reasons, so the neighbouring Giardini Naxos has been selected for the “No G7” march.
Giardini’s mayor Pancrazio Lo Turco has ordered all shops to be closed on Saturday until the protest is over, even though organisers say it is meant to be a peaceful demonstration aimed at giving voice to the world’s disenfranchised.
Stores and restaurants are forbidden from selling bottled alcoholic beverages, and many have already boarded up their windows. Some have mounted metal plating, fearing the kind of violence that marked a similar meeting in Genoa, Italy, in 2001.
On that occasion, an anti-globalisation protester was shot dead by police during some of Italy’s worst-ever riots.
The organisers of Saturday’s rally expect some 3,500 people will turn up and police chiefs say they have no reason to believe it will turn violent.
“We have to close down because of this summit. Who’s going to give us our money back?” said Antonino Di Franco, a barber who everyone calls “Nino”. “They shouldn’t have held this meeting here, or they should have done it in April, not in May when the tourists start to come.”
In a morning gathering in Giardini’s sunny municipal square, protesters said they were there to give voice to those who have little political clout, like migrants seeking to reach Europe and North America.
“Today with Trump as president there is extreme uncertainty among immigrants without the proper documents who constantly fear deportation,” said Father Tomas Gonzalez, who founded a shelter for migrants in Mexico near its southern border with Guatemala and who came to Italy to take part in the protest.
“The policy of building walls is costing migrant lives on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.
Some 1,500 migrants have died so far this year trying to reach Europe by boat as the European Union funnels money and equipment to the Tripoli-based coast guard to turn them back to Libya. Hundreds die every year along the U.S.-Mexico border, where Trump has pledged to build a wall to keep migrants out.
(Editing by Crispian Balmer)