By TOM ZELLER Jr.
Tibetan flags are seen in the foreground as tens of thousands demonstrators take part in a march leaving parliament, seen in rear, in the center of Copenhagen Saturday Dec. 12, 2009. Large crowds are expected to turn out for a demonstration from the city center to bella center, the conference venue where the largest and most important U.N. climate change conference is underway aiming to secure an agreement on how to protect the world from calamitous global warming. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
COPENHAGEN - Thousands of protesters from around the globe converged in a square here Saturday for what was expected to be the largest demonstration during two weeks of talks on a global strategy to combat climate change.
The police said they anticipated that 60,000 people would join a long march southward from Christiansborg Slotsplads, or Castle Square, toward the Bella Center, the sprawling and heavily fortified convention center where delegates and observers from nearly 200 nations are gathered to try to seek a consensus.
A coalition of hundreds of environmental groups, human rights campaigners, climate activists, anti-capitalists and freelance protesters from dozens of countries — along with Copenhagen residents, young and old — gathered in the early afternoon for a veritable circus of eco-themed signs, chants, speeches and costumes.
By 1 p.m., a rolling sea of flags and banners undulated across the square, most with climate slogans or pleas for world leaders to resolve the vast differences that still make a global climate agreement elusive as talks here move into the second and final week.
“Bla, Bla, Bla,” said one popular sign. “Act Now!”
Another said, “Nature Doesn’t Compromise.”
On a stage at the eastern edge of the square, a succession of speakers stoked a cheering crowd, their voices booming over loudspeakers. “My words cannot replace action,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats, the leading opposition party here. “We are here to show leaders that what is made by man, can be changed by man.”
In the crowd was 26-year-old Jemimah Maitei, dressed in traditional clothing from her native Kenya. Watching the stage eagerly, she said she had traveled to Copenhagen to be part of a delegation representing indigenous peoples at the talks, which are overseen by the United Nations.
“I came here to give my views on how climate change is impacting my community,” Ms. Maitei said. She cited relentless droughts that had made growing crops, among other things, increasingly difficult for the Masai, the ethnic group to which she belongs.
The vast demonstration was not the exclusive province of climate campaigners, however. Groups of diverse social and political pedigree took advantage of the huge gathering to advance their agendas, too.
One sign urged the overthrow of the Iranian government. Another, with the words “Earth in Need: Delete Meat,” was one of many promoting vegetarian diets.
People calling for a “Free Tibet” were well represented, and a small contingent of climate skeptics and libertarians opposed to caps on heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions derided the United Nations talks.
“We want to be able to live our lives like we’ve always led them before — as free citizens in free democracies,” said David Pontoppidan, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Copenhagen, who addressed passers-by through a megaphone over the chatter of two helicopters hovering far above.
“We want free debate; we want to be able to be taken seriously even though we don’t agree with the U.N.,” he said.
By midafternoon, as people made their way over the canal and southward toward the Bella Center, small bands of black-clad youths chanting anti-capitalist slogans and carrying sticks and rocks could be seen infiltrating the otherwise peaceful crowd.
At around 3:30, dozens of Danish police officers penetrated the parade near its tail, surrounding a group of the more radical protesters. Several arrests were made, while the remainder of the column of demonstrators was guided around the scene to rejoin those making their way for the demonstration’s terminus at Vejlands Alle, just north of the convention center.
Although there have been scattered skirmishes between the police and protesters during the first week of the United Nations conference, most of these have been isolated, and Danish law enforcement officials have made it broadly known that they would have low tolerance for unruly behavior.
Jesper Frandsen, a police officer keeping watch at an area behind the stage at the outset of the demonstration, said the police force wanted to ensure that visitors enjoyed themselves and that their environmental concerns were heard.
“We want to keep the focus on the environmental debate and make sure the radical activists don’t steal the attention,” he said.
Leading the march from the square this afternoon, a man in blue coveralls, with vaudevillian face paint and a faux Cyrano nose, could be seen sweeping the street and peering into a rolling trash bin painted to resemble the planet. It emitted plumes of white dust and mournful musical notes.
“This is our comment on global warming,” said the sweeper, Jens Kloft, a Danish performance artist. “We want to have an international compromise on global warming — a better climate, but two more months of summer in Denmark please. Because it’s too cold to be out here.”Andrew C. Revkin and Lars Kroldrup contributed reporting.