Published at 4:41 PM on Sunday, April 16, 2000 by Agence France-Presse
Protesters Lift Siege Of IMF, World Bank As Demonstrations Continue
 
WASHINGTON, April 16 (AFP) -

Thousands of protesters lifted their siege of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank headquarters here Sunday but police were bracing for another day of demonstrations.

The protesters had formed a human chain around the IMF and World Bank headquarters early Sunday blocking all entrances in an attempt to prevent delegates from attending a key IMF policymaking meeting.

Police said the demonstrators lifted their day-long blockade and began to disperse peacefully at around 2.00 p.m. (1800 GMT).

The IMF meeting went ahead as scheduled with most finance ministers and IMF officials bussed in under police escort before dawn before demonstrators had a chance to block access to the building.

The scene outside the IMF, World bank complex in downtown Washington was relaxed and cheerful in the Sunday sunshine after the siege ended but sporadic violence erupted elsewhere.

As police helicopters buzzed overhead, witnesses said that law enforcement officers fired tear gas and clubbed and kicked demonstrators in one incident a few streets away from the IMF meeting.

Around a dozen injuries were also reported in a clash near the White House, among them Associated Press photographer Yim Hee Soon -- AFP's former chief photographer in Seoul. Witnesses said he was clubbed by police and was being treated in a local hospital for a gashed head.

"In 37 years of police work I have learned anything that can happen will happen. Obviously here it did," said local police commander Gene Marland.

Police spokeswoman Rai Howell said she was unable to confirm the injury reports and said arrest figures for Sunday were not available. Police arrested more than 600 protesters on Saturday.

Thousands of activists -- from anarchists to environmental radicals -- have flocked to Washington vowing to shut down the meeting of IMF policymakers Sunday and the World Bank meeting on Monday.

Many view the IMF and World Bank, who act as international lending agencies to developing countries, as tools of capitalism and multinational corporations whose policies impoverish poor countries.

They say the organizations have worsened economic conditions and caused environmental degradation with many of the projects they sponsor in developing countries.

Protest organizers said 10,000-20,000 demonstrators were in the streets, many of whom blocked access throughout the day to the IMF and the World Bank headquarters just four blocks from the White House.

"No one through, no one through," the demonstrators chanted before lifting the siege as officials and journalists covering the joint meeting of the IMF and the World Bank were turned away.

The demonstrators failed to stop the IMF policy meeting which went ahead as planned.

However, French Finance Minister Laurent Fabius was among those locked out along with Portuguese Finance Minister Joaquim Pina Moura and also German Finance Minister Hans Eichel. All three eventually entered the building.

The lively crowds of protesters, waving banners and displaying puppets, were mainly peaceful, police said. They were mostly middle class and young, with a sprinkling of elderly activists.

"It's going better than I imagined in my wildest dream," said Kevin Danaher, a key organizer with Global Exchange, one of the protest groups.

"We don't care what they do inside. It's not about them, in there," he said of the IMF meeting. "It's about us out here."

Police put the number of protesters at between 6,000 and 10,000 and a spokeswoman said she had no confirmation that tear gas had been fired nor could she confirm a witness account that foam bullets, similar to rubber bullets, had been used on demonstrators.

Washington police chief Charles Ramsey said he was hoping to head off a repeat of the widespread disruptions that took place in Seattle last November, when some radical demonstrators ransacked parts of the city during a World Trade Organization meeting.

"Our goal is to avoid the kind of property damage and violence that we have seen in other places," he told a morning press conference.

He warned that more disruption was on the way for the US capital on Monday as protesters vowed to shut down the World Bank, where a meeting of Bank policymakers is scheduled.

Ramsey said his entire 3,600-strong police department was mobilized and he had backup from neighboring police jurisdictions. The local branch of the National Guard was being held in reserve.

"Hopefully we will not need to call out these reserves," he said.

Some demonstrators were already proclaiming victory.

"We've already won," said Medea Benjamin, an organizer with Global Exchange.

"The problem with these organizations is that they have been functioning in secret and that is how they have been able to get away with actually increasing poverty.

"These last two weeks leading up to this was front-page headlines. We've had more press coverage about the World Bank and the IMF these last two weeks than in the last 10 years. This is just gravy today."

Copyright 2000 AFP

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