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Originally published February 9, 2010 at 9:40 PM | Page modified February 9, 2010 at 10:35 PM

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Anti-Olympic protesters converge on Vancouver

As Vancouver takes the world stage this week as host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, thousands of protesters with a rainbow of causes are planning to crash the party and potentially disrupt the games.

Seattle Times staff reporter

As Vancouver takes the world stage this week as host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, thousands of protesters are planning to crash the party.

And many of those set to rally against the Olympics are looking to events in Seattle a decade ago — the World Trade Organization protests — for inspiration and recruits.

Like the activists who took to the Seattle streets, these protesters hope to disrupt the Games and call attention to the problems of globalization.

Nobody knows how large or disruptive the activities will turn out.

Protesters from more than 50 groups are in Vancouver as part of an Olympic Resistance Network. Some of the organizers are veterans of the Battle in Seattle.

"We think everything about the Games as they currently exist is wrong," said Chris Shaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia who is participating in the protests.

"It's hard to imagine that this will not be a serious protest, perhaps of the nature of Seattle. It will be noisy, it will be embarrassing to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and maybe to the city. A lot of people won't like it, but it will be democracy at its best."

Olympic opponents have organized a "Take Back Our City" march from the Vancouver Art Gallery to BC Place Stadium on Friday afternoon before the 6 p.m. opening ceremony.

On Saturday, protesters will aim to disturb the first full day of events with a "Heart Attack: Street March to Clog the Arteries of Capitalism" in downtown Vancouver's Thornton Park, not far from the Olympic athletes' village.

Vancouver police said they will uphold protesters' right to free speech as long as they are peaceful and legal.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee told The Vancouver Sun this week that if the demonstrations during the Olympic Torch relay throughout Canada were any indication, the protests in Vancouver could be less trouble than predicted.

Mary McNeil, a British Columbia provincial legislator who is minister of state for the Olympics, said her experience along the relay route shows the Olympic supporters far outweighed protesters.

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In Campbell River, B.C., "there were 4,000 people in a shopping-mall parking lot, in the rain, waving flags and singing 'O Canada,' " the national anthem, she said. "There's something about the Olympic mystique."

In total, the hosts are spending $900 million during the Games for security. More than 16,000 police and security personnel will work as an integrated force, one of the largest such operations in Canadian history.

The Olympic protesters include groups such as anti-poverty and environmental activists and civil libertarians, joined by Canadian First Nations groups angry over the destruction of forest land to construct the four-lane highway linking Vancouver and Whistler.

Their message is simple: "No 2010 Olympics on Stolen Native Land."

Some members of the Olympic Resistance Network came to Seattle in November to mark the anniversary of the WTO protests.

They sought connections with activists here and discussed how to use mega-events such as the Olympics to build a movement against unfair trade agreements, heavy-handed security measures and corporations' degrading land.

Shaw and others said frustration has been building over the expense of the Games, which some estimates put at nearly $6 billion, and a perceived lack of progress on addressing problems such as homelessness in Vancouver.

"Without the issues, the protests would have been very muted," Shaw said. "It's very much a self-inflicted wound."

Canadian security expert Tom Quiggin said the Olympics offers "a ready-made visible protest platform" for anyone with a grievance.

As far as shutting down traffic, Whistler may be particularly vulnerable because it's accessible by only one road, he said.

For some protesters, such as aboriginal activist Gord Hill, that is exactly the goal.

"Stopping it would be a great objective to reach," he said, "but it will be very difficult because of the size of the security forces. If we can disrupt it and put a black mark on it, that would be a huge success."

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

Times reporter Jonathan Martin contributed to this report.

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