July 19, 2024

By Ann Saphir and Matt McKnight

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A lively crowd gathered on a sunny Sunday in San Francisco to protest a meeting of cross-Pacific political leaders and a wide spectrum of other issues, prominently including those calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Protesters converged on the plaza in front of San Francisco’s ferry building, the gateway to the city, carrying banners and posters opposing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, calling for economic and environmental change, and waving Palestinian flags.

Others were opposed to the oil industry and supported labor activists and immigrants’ rights, and the crowd stretched for several blocks along the Market Street thoroughfare when the march began late afternoon.

Hand-beaten drums set the atmosphere. The home of 1960s counterculture, San Francisco has retained an anti-authoritarian sensibility even as tech companies and employees have made the city a global influencer.

Police expect multiple protests over the coming week at APEC, which accelerates on Wednesday with the second meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping since Biden took office in January 2021.

The action could become confrontational on Wednesday, with protesters calling to block attendees from entering the San Francisco conference center.

“Our community is in chaos,” said Roberto Ruiz, 53, a musician at the ferry plaza on Sunday who said the funding used to support the leadership summit should have been used to help the poor.

“We have people in the streets who have no homes. This money could definitely have gone to them,” he said.

As many as 3,000 people may live on the streets, according to data from a 2022 count published on the city’s website.

San Francisco is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic slower than many cities, with some major retailers abandoning Market Street. San Francisco tourism is much reduced from pre-pandemic levels, according to data from hotel analytics firm STR published in June.

Student Sarah R, 21, who declined to giver her last name, said she had come to send a message to Biden and other leaders in support of Palestinians facing “genocide”. Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from Gaza by Hamas militants.

Geoscience engineer Marty Brewer, 56, urged a fast response to the climate crisis. “So far we are failing to address this emergency,” he said.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir and Matt McKnight; Writing By Peter Henderson; editing by Grant McCool)

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