Boos & Queues: A seven-hour saga getting into the conference

December 14, 2009 at 8:47am
Seth's toes are finally warm. In his security photo he is grinning like a child -- and with reason. He's finally in.

"You have no idea how important water and a bathroom is until you don't have it," he said after waiting 7 hours and 20 minutes to enter the Copenhagen climate talks.
Attendees wait in a line to pick up accreditation at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, Dec. 14. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) © 2010 APAttendees wait in a line to pick up accreditation at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, Dec. 14. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) © 2010 AP
With U.N. security letting in only those cleared last week, hundreds of accredited delegates, journalists and NGO representatives were left to stand for hours in near-freezing temperatures before being let through. "It was crazy," AP's Seth Borenstein said. "You couldn't leave the line. You couldn't go to the bathroom, you couldn't eat. Then snowflakes started falling. One woman even said, 'if lightning strikes me, would they take me out of line?'"

People started handing out food -- one gave out tangerines, another croissants. A man screamed "I don't need food. I need socks! I'm freezing my ass off out here." At one point, a U.N. official announced the wait would be longer, prompting the crowd to boo and chant "Let Us In!"

An Indian TV crew member interviewing actor Rahul Bose quipped "we'll just do our interviews out here!" to which Bose mused "when bad things happen in a first-world country, it's really a disaster!"

Seth himself stepped into the line at 7:55 a.m. and was through at 3:15 p.m., but only after another AP reporter, John Heilprin, "saved my bacon" by persuading a U.N. security guard to go out and fetch him. "John was afraid to go out himself in case they wouldn't let him back in ... the first thing I did when I saw him was give him a big hug. I have never been so grateful to be indoors." Seth's neighbors in line? "Oh they're still out there."

And it looks like they might stay there. With 40,000 people registered and Bella Center's capacity only 15,000, the U.N. introduced a new quota system and ordered NGOs to cut down their numbers. Police shut down the Bella Center's subway stop in a bid to ease the congestion. The situation can only get worse as more than 100 heads of state and government, including President Obama, show up this week with their entourages.

Many among the 3,500 accredited journalists worry they may be "locked down" in the press area and kept away from the conference center's central atrium where delegates, presidents and premiers would circulate.

UPDATE: At 5 p.m., U.N. officials told everyone still in line that accreditation would close at 6 p.m. and so they should leave until Tuesday morning. Police started pulling people out of the crowd, which shouted back "Shame on the U.N.!" The U.N. then apologized for the inconvenience -- a gesture met with more booing and chanting.

Katy Daigle is based in London and covers international news for the AP

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