Published 10:34 AM Saturday, April 15, 2000 by AP
Protesters' Headquarters Raided, Shut Down
By Alice Ann Love
WASHINGTON Police staged a lightning raid and closed down the headquarters of world finance protesters today after fire officials declared the old warehouse unsafe.
Moving through the building, officers seized a plastic container with a rag stuffed inside and what looked like a wick, said executive assistant police chief Terry Gainer.
He said it "looks like a Molotov cocktail," adding that police also found soda bottles with the tops or bottoms cut off.
The "convergence" center was used by hundreds of demonstrators each day to train for mass protests planned for Sunday and Monday and make signs, banners and puppets.
"We're simply concerned about their safety, and we want to make sure there are no fire hazards," Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey said.
Two people were arrested as the center was evacuated. Officers said they refused to obey police orders.
Police said the building was a fire hazard, with a jury-rigged electrical system, chained doors and a propane stove that was not up to code.
Chuck Reinhardt, 50, said fire inspectors came into the building and declared that the restaurant-type propane stove being used for cooking was a violation of the national capital's fire code.
They were quickly followed by police who told people to leave, said Reinhardt, a high school history teacher from New York City who came down for the demonstrations.
He said around 300 people were in the building at the time.
"We probably saved their lives," Ramsey said, when asked why fire officials ordered protesters to vacate the building set up as demonstration headquarters.
Ramsey spoke to protesters on the streets earlier. When one asked whether police would use tear gas, the chief replied, on WRC-TV, "We could light this town up if we had to, but we don't intend to do that."
Molly McCarthy, 21, of Seattle, a protest organizer, said of the evacuation: "One message we want to put out is 'This will not deter us.'"
Patrick Reinsborough of San Francisco, who was in the warehouse, said two police officers and two fire officials came to the center unannounced and began inspections.
Several of the protesters demanded a search warrant, but the fire officials said they didn't need one for a fire inspection
"The police said they found things that were a fire hazard," Reinsborough said. "As soon as they claimed they found a fire hazard, a large number of police were in the area. They demanded the space be evacuated."
Late Friday, police raided a house where they found a large supply of tools and equipment that protesters apparently planned to use to thwart police efforts to break up human blockades. It was the second time this week that officers seized such equipment.
Police arrested three people and confiscated hollow plastic tubes called "sleeping dragons," along with chains, chicken wire and gas masks.
"We're very pleased that we're taking these instruments of crime off the street, and this will make the weekend much safer," Gainer said.
Shortly before police moved into the headquarters this morning, about 20 demonstrators from 10 countries appeared at the home of World Bank President James Wolfensohn and handed him a letter protesting the institution's lending policies.
Wolfensohn, on his way to work, listened quietly as Dr. Vineeta Gupta, an Indian physician, read part of the letter. The demonstrators sang quietly in the street, drawing a squad of motorcycle officers, and held signs saying, "Wake up Wolfensohn" and "Wake Up World Bank."
There were no arrests.
"Good morning. Well, thank you very much. You got up very early," Wolfensohn said he told the group before he got into his chauffeur-driven car.
The letter demanded an international boycott of the bonds that are the main funding source for the World Bank. "We call on governments of all member nations of the World Bank to cease further funding ... until all destructive World Bank lending has ended and the World Bank has canceled all debts owed to it by Third World countries," the letter said.
EDITOR'S NOTE Associated Press writer Will Lester contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press