HENDAYE (France) • More than 9,000 anti-G-7 protesters joined a mass march across the French-Spanish border yesterday as world leaders arrived for a summit in Biarritz just hours after activists clashed with the police.
Since last Monday, anti-capitalist activists, environmentalists and other anti-globalisation groups have begun flocking to south-western France for a counter-summit, which they insist will be peaceful.
Biarritz is a popular tourist destination that would normally be basking in its annual summer boom, but with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders flying in for three days of talks, the resort was on lockdown.
"Heads of state: act now, Amazonia is burning!" read one banner as the huge crowd rallied under cloudless blue skies in the French coastal town of Hendaye, the slogan referring to the wildfires ravaging the world's largest rainforest.
Waving thousands of flags, they marched across the Bidassoa River heading for the Spanish town of Irun, chanting slogans and playing drums.
The demonstrators were an eclectic mix of environmental activists, families and anti-globalists.
Among the crowd was even a group dressed in traditional Basque shepherd costumes with red, white and green Basque flags.
The rally ended shortly before the afternoon with no major incident.
But the authorities remain on high alert, with Biarritz on lockdown and the police deployed en masse in the neighbouring town of Bayonne as well to keep protesters at bay.
Seventeen people were arrested overnight on Friday and four police officers lightly injured when clashes erupted in Urrugne near the Spanish border some 25km south of the resort.
"I want to call for calm and for unity," French President Emmanuel Macron said in an address to the nation just hours before the official opening of the summit.
"We won't be able to face all these big challenges if we don't act together," he said.
Last Friday night's confrontation occurred as activists tried to block the police from reaching a site where they had set up camp, with the police firing tear gas and using controversial rubber rounds, known as LBDs, to disperse them.
France has deployed more than 13,000 police officers and gendarmes to secure the event amid fears of disturbances by radical anti-capitalist groups, anarchists and "yellow vests" who have staged months of anti-government protests.
But demonstrators insist their protests will be peaceful.
"It's important to show that people are mobilised and do not accept the type of world they're offering us," said Ms Elise Dilet, a 47-year-old activist with Bizi, a Basque anti-globalisation group.