Anarchists and anti-capitalists rampaged through Geneva and Lausanne yesterday, smashing up shops and looting businesses as world leaders met just beyond their reach in France.

In Lausanne, police fired tear gas and water cannon to drive crowds of demonstrators away from the hotel area where some delegates to the Group of Eight (G8) summit, being held across Lake Geneva in the French spa town of Evian, were staying.

Dozens of black-hooded protesters in Geneva briefly blocked bridges with burning tyres after breaking into luxury stores and petrol stations overnight, daubing walls with slogans against the June 1-3 meeting many of them see as a selfish rich club.

"We want these people arrested and punished. We want the population to be able to get on with a normal life," said Geneva mayor Christian Ferrazino, touring the damage.

Police detained scores of people at a Lausanne campsite full of activists, and one protestor was seriously hurt when he fell from a bridge over a motorway that protestors were seeking to block to prevent delegates reaching Evian from the Swiss side.

But the actions failed to disrupt the tightly guarded summit being hosted by French President Jacques Chirac some 50 km away along the picturesque lake.

The "G8" includes industrialised Western nations and Russia, but leaders of some poorer countries, including China, India and Brazil, have also been invited.

Anti-G8 protesters accuse rich states of plundering the economies of the developing world and say Third World leaders will come away with nothing but promises.

The violence overshadowed largely peaceful marches linking Geneva and the French frontier town of Annemasse, the nearest point to Evian demonstrators could reach, in which tens of thousands of people chanted slogans against the war in Iraq and world poverty.

French and Swiss police have been on high alert after the mayhem that rocked the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, two years ago when one protester was shot dead by police. Last year's summit was held out of reach in a remote Canadian mountain resort.

G8 leaders are staying in Evian and those top officials being lodged in Lausanne crossed the lake by boat or helicopter.

March organisers were quick to condemn the disturbances and police said that the groups of black-clad violent protesters appeared to have been well-coordinated in both cities.

"We have no idea who these people were. It has nothing to do with the demonstration, which was a very, very big success," Christophe Aguiton, one of the march organisers, told Reuters.

Police and witnesses said tens of thousands of people, including many children, marched, but organisers put the number at up to 100,000.

Officials said they were switching part of a 900-strong German police contingent guarding Geneva airport, where heads of state arrived before being whisked away by helicopter, to the city centre to protect against more incidents on Sunday night.

Earlier Molotov cocktails were lobbed at the main theatre in Geneva, self-proclaimed "humanitarian capital" of the world that hosts major relief agencies - but which also draws the world's ultra-rich with its discreet private banks and fine jewellers.

In Lausanne, protesters, many wearing balaclavas, masks and trademark anarchist black T-shirts, targeted shops and gas stations and chanted "No blood for oil", a clear reference to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

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