Published at 3:22 PM on April 17, 2000 by Reuters
Police Detain Hundreds More in Rain-Soaked World Bank Protests
by Mark Egan
WASHINGTON - Police
There were repeated scuffles between protesters and police clad in riot gear and gas masks. Even the city's police chief, Charles Ramsey, helped wrestle a demonstrator to the ground.
``There have been a couple of skirmishes, officers being assaulted during these arrests, but it's nothing we can't handle,'' Ramsey told reporters.
Chanting slogans such as ``More World, less Bank,'' the protesters claim the global lenders' policies hurt the economies of the poor countries they are meant to help.
Protesters lined up in driving rain behind police barricades just one block from the bank and IMF buildings and several blocks away from the White House. President Clinton was out of town.
After a tense stand-off for about an hour, police allowed small groups to cross the barrier and then face arrest. Police could not provide an exact figure but reporters on the scene estimated that hundreds were held.
Washington's Deputy Police Chief Terrance Gainer, who helped to negotiate the ``peaceful arrests,'' accepted a bunch of roses from protesters at the barricades.
Protesters told Reuters the group's ``tactical committee'' had originally voted to storm the barricades and break into the building where world financial leaders were meeting, but then decided to opt for peaceful arrests as a sign of protest.
Movie stars Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins joined the demonstrators, who caused traffic chaos in the city and led the federal government to order only emergency workers to report for work in a large area surrounding the IMF and World Bank.
Robbins said he was very impressed by the demonstrations. ''I think this is exciting because it is such a wide coalition of people. You haven't seen this kind of unity before.''
Police sprayed pepper frequently during the day and Washington Mayor Anthony Williams said tear gas was used once.
He denied accusations from protesters that the police used heavy-handed tactics. ``The police have shown great poise and discipline throughout this episode,'' Williams told CNN.
Steve Kretzmann, a spokesman for the Mobilization for Global Justice, said the protests had been a victory for the organizers but that the police had gone too far.
``They (police) have militarized our capital. This kind of force only strengthens our resolve. We will not back down,'' Kretzmann told a news conference.
Ramsey said the tear gas incident had been a mistake and the police officer involved thought he was throwing a smoke grenade.
He said World Bank delegates had been surrounded by about 200 protesters who were dressed in black and wearing masks. ''The officer got out, thought he was throwing a smoke grenade to break up the crowd and it actually was tear gas.''
The World Bank's Development Committee -- discussing debt relief, trade and the fight against AIDS -- started its meetings with a breakfast at 6:30 a.m. (1030 GMT), moving on at 7:30 a.m. (1130 GMT) to the formal session.
Early in the day, police detained more than 35 black-clad protesters for ``incommoding,'' which means blocking the sidewalk. Police forced them onto their knees and locked plastic handcuffs onto them.
Closer to the World Bank's glitzy headquarters, police detained another 18-20 people and piled them onto a school bus after again putting handcuffs on them.
Ramsey said a search of bags carried by those detained had disgorged nails, gas masks, rocks, sling shots and what he called ``home made concoctions,'' including bottles of urine.
One was marked ``Seattle special,'' in reference to last year's riots in the port city that sank global trade talks.
Ramsey said Monday's protests were less significant than those at the weekend but he did not have complete figures yet.
Protest organizers claimed they had 20,000 demonstrators on the streets of the capital Sunday. Police estimated 10,000 protesters attended one demonstration on the grassy Ellipse near the White House, a good-humored rally that drew supporters from causes ranging from AIDS to Third World rights.
As in the anti-trade protests in Seattle last December, the demonstrators in Washington underwent weeks of training and appeared to be highly organized. But unlike Seattle, District police quickly responded to attempts by protesters to disrupt the meetings here, keeping the crowds mostly under control.
Sharon Alexander, a 49-year-old from Boulder, Co., said she had taken part in the Seattle protests. ``Seattle was a lot more fun,'' she said, adding that Washington police seemed to be more organized.
Copyright 2000 Reuters