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Thousands march to 'welcome' the Olympics

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Thousands of anti-Olympic protesters marched from the Vancouver Art Gallery to BC Place in the hours leading up to the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics today. The ceremonies began at BC Place at 6 p.m. tonight.

At the time of writing, hundreds of protesters remained across the street from the venue, their access blocked by an estimated one hundred police on foot and horses, purportedly with tear gas on hand. There have been no reported clashes between police and protesters.

While helicopters circled overhead, protesters shouted a myriad of chants, focusing primarily on the environmental impact of the Games, the cost of the Olympics, housing and homelessness, and First Nations rights. The march was lead by Indigenous elders, who formed a strong human shield against police, who were monitoring the crowd and making space for tour buses to deliver Olympic attendees to the ceremonies. Protesters were allowed to gather at the corner of Robson and Beatty streets, facing BC Place, but have not been allowed to enter the grounds.

While police currently have no estimate for the size of the crowd, organizers claim upwards of 3,000 people were involved in the action.

The march was organized by the 2010 Welcome Committee, composed of dozens of groups concerned with the Vancouver Games, from First Nations organizations to unions, from environmental groups to political parties.

BC Place is located across from "Alberta House," which according to that provincial government "will provide a number of opportunities to showcase Alberta artists and performers, provide hosting opportunities for Alberta businesses, and a venue to recognize Alberta athletes." Protesters used this opportunity to shout "no Games and no tar sands on stolen Native land!"

The variety of issues addressed at the march represent the complexity of anti-Olympic sentiment, and act as a measure of the variable protests and actions expected in the weeks to come. Flyers concerning cutbacks to HIV/AIDS services, free food given out by Food Not Bombs, and a surprisingly strong PETA presence demonstrates the multitude of organizations planning to be involved in Olympic resistance throughout the Games.

Far from being discombobulated, however, today's rally was coherent, organized and peaceful, allowing a multitude of groups to be represented while giving precedence to First Nations organizations. Rather than being tense, the atmosphere was festive. Despite obvious excitement, no violence occurred, with marchers chatting amicably to cops as the group moved through the city streets. Some Olympic attendees expressed frustration with the group, but many more leaned out of bar windows to ask questions about the action and offer their own opinion of the Games, as well as take pictures of the march.

To view more photos visit rabble.ca's 2010 Olympics Flickr pool.

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