Discuss as:

A protest only the French could cook up

Adrienne Mong / NBC News

A festive air dominated the anti-G20 protest in Nice on Tuesday.

By Adrienne Mong, NBC News Correspondent  

NICE, France – As the Group of 20 leaders, aka the G-20, begin descending on the French Riviera for their annual summit this week, demonstrators have started to converge, too.

Protest organizers said some 6,000 people were expected to participate Tuesday in what they said would be their biggest march, but the group gathered around De Lattre de Tassigny Square in Nice looked to be a fraction of that forecast.

Despite the low turnout, the variety of interests represented was high. Some 40 different organizations, from the large (think Oxfam France and Greenpeace) to the small (local trade unions and grassroots Nice citizens' groups) had joined forces. There were South Korean trade unionists and nurses from Australia.

"I'm here to show support for Tibet," said Patrick Magne, a 50-something Nice resident toting a giant “Free Tibet” flag.  "And to demonstrate against the G-20.  China's government is a member of the G-20, and they've committed atrocities in Tibet."

“But,” he added as he looked at the myriad of demonstrators, “this protest here – it represents all my ideals and values."

Adrienne Mong / NBC News

A placard displays the protest slogan

Many of the placards called for higher taxes on the wealthy, an end to free trade, or a dissolution of the G-20.  There were also more specialized voices in the mix, such as the one urging support for the women of Fukushima, the site of the nuclear power plant that was critically damaged by Japan's earthquake and tsunami last March.

"We're not happy with the financial system that has crushed everyone and crushed the whole world," said Linda Zuppiroli, a local Italian-French resident. 

Zuppiroli, who is retired, said she and her husband had participated in many demonstrations in the past, but "they were to do with human rights."

They'd decided to join Tuesday's march because they felt life had become more difficult and more costly with "fewer liberties. … Too few people have equal access to opportunities or resources and everyone is paying for the mistakes of the greedy."

"The world debt system is destroying Europe and will destroy your country, too," said Jean Galmzhorn, a Frenchman who works in the construction business, where he says rampant property speculation and sky-high real estate prices have contributed to the decline of the quality of life in his community.

High security
Despite the low turnout, the French authorities were taking no chances.  An estimated 12,000 security forces have been deployed across the French Riviera.

Police speedboats and jet-skis bobbed side by side with the super yachts in the picturesque Cannes and Nice harbors.  Hovering over the demonstrators were two helicopters. And on virtually every street corner of the protest route were clusters of helmeted riot police with batons and shields at the ready.

Adrienne Mong / NBC News

French authorities took no risks, deploying thousands of riot police across the French Riviera

Their presence seemed rather incongruous with the protest's somewhat festive and family-friendly atmosphere set against the sunny backdrop of the French Riviera.

"It does seem as though fewer people are taking part," said Galmzhorn, whose infant was sleeping in a stroller.  "I've participated in demonstrations like this for 10 years, and it does seem to be fewer people."

"Maybe they're too preoccupied with making ends meet," he added.  "Or maybe they're too busy trying to find a way to speculate, too."

With additional reporting from NBC's Peter Jeary and Nancy Ing.

Related story: Occupy the Champs Elysees? Non, merci!