Bucking a tide of anti-immigration sentiment in Europe, about 30,000 people, some here illegally from poor countries, called Thursday for freer movement of job seekers across borders.
"A global village without borders," demanded one of the hundreds of banners at the event, the first in a series of planned protests against leaders of the world's major industrialized nations who convene here today. Most of the marchers were white Europeans, but they were joined by a few hundred Africans, South Americans, Iranians and Kurdish separatists from Turkey.
The three-hour procession, wending upriver from Genoa's harbor past hundreds of riot police, featured a brass band and comic effigies of Group of 8 leaders. Some marchers carried wet underwear on lines between poles, mocking Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's appeal to Genoese to remove wet laundry from their windows while his VIP guests are in town.
It was all raucously nonviolent, but no one expected the peace to last.
As the march was underway, police extended the eastern perimeter of the top-security "red zone" around Genoa's medieval city center and port, bracing for an assault by protest groups that have vowed to try to break in today and disrupt the summit.
In Ancona, across the Italian peninsula on the Adriatic coast, riot police pulled 50 Genoa-bound Greek protesters off buses to deport them, starting a scuffle that left 13 protesters and three policemen injured, Italy's ANSA news agency reported.
During the three-day summit, as many as 100,000 demonstrators are expected to come to Genoa to protest U.S.-led global capitalism, which they say exploits and impoverishes the developing world. Their loosely organized movement for global justice has clashed with police at nearly every major summit since the World Trade Organization's 1999 meeting in Seattle.
The Genoa demonstrations have drawn nearly 1,200 European humanitarian, environmental and labor groups.
Organizers said they made immigration the theme of their kickoff march to stress that they are not so much against globalization--the ever-tighter linking of economies rich and poor--as the way the wealthy manipulate the process.
The protesters claim that, while demanding free cross-border flows of goods and capital on terms favorable to rich economies, wealthy countries restrict free flows of labor by limiting the admission of immigrants fleeing poverty in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
"This is such a contradiction that even Adam Smith would not stand for it," said Walden Bello, a Filipino who heads an Asian think tank called Focus on the Global South. He took part in Thursday's march. Smith's pioneering theories on modern capitalism, Bello said, called for free movement of all factors of production.
"The borders should be open to immigrants; they should be considered citizens," Bello said. "Second, the neoliberal policies being pushed on the poor countries should be ended. That's the only way that workers are going to stay put in these countries and create dynamic markets."
Immigration is not on the agenda of this week's G-8 summit, which brings together President Bush and the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. It is a sensitive topic in all developed countries. In recent years, some European electorates have succumbed to racist appeals by politicians who brand new arrivals as welfare scroungers, job snatchers and threats to stability.
Thursday's march was led by leftists from across Europe whose outspoken opposition to that view puts them in a minority on the continent.
"I reject the argument that poor immigrants are my enemy," said Carlo Morelli, 37, a lecturer in economics at the University of Dundee in Scotland. "If the system cannot find work for everyone, then it's the fault of the system, not the immigrants."
The pro-immigration lobby has its own anthem, "Clandestino." Manu Chao, the Paris-born son of Spaniards who is one of Europe's hottest pop stars, sang his hit here Wednesday night to a dancing multitude of G-8 protesters.
Diouf Cheikh, a 34-year-old Senegalese immigrant, was one of the relatively few black faces in Thursday's march. He arrived in Italy illegally a decade ago and endured five years of police harassment before gaining a resident's permit. He now owns a cosmetics shop here.
Genoa, a city of 650,000 people, has thousands of illegal immigrants from Senegal, Nigeria, the former Yugoslav federation and South America. Many of them left town or went into hiding in recent days, Cheikh said, to avoid security checks and possible deportation by the more than 12,000 police officers sent here to protect the summit.
But some clandestini joined the march, including a 23-year-old Venezuelan whose 60-day tourist visa expired Tuesday. She intends to keep working illegally in a graphics design studio. Smiling under a huge green Mexican-style sombrero, she identified herself only as Gaby.
The march was one of two permitted by police outside the red zone, where the G-8 leaders will meet and be lodged. The other march is Saturday.
To protect the zone against today's threatened assault, police have erected concrete-lined metal fences bolstered with steel poles to seal off all streets, alleys and passages leading into the area. They have suspended passport-free travel with neighboring European countries, set up checkpoints and turned away nearly 1,000 suspected troublemakers at borders, officials say.
Genoa, on edge after the letter bombing of a police station Monday and dozens of bomb scares, has emptied two jails, anticipating as many as 600 arrests. On Wednesday, police raided a tent city lodging the White Overalls, a protest group bent on breaching the red zone, but they found no weapons.
The White Overalls then went back to its training, reviewing film of the group's clashes with Czech riot police last fall.