Published on Saturday, September 16, 2000 in the Guardian of London
Prague Braced For Demos
Borders jammed as thousands arrive for IMF-World Bank annual conference
by Kate Connolly in Prague
 
Border crossings into the Czech Republic were jammed yesterday as thousands of anti-globalisation protesters began streaming into the country for next week's International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meeting.

Motorists on the Austrian, German, Polish and Slovak borders were delayed for up to eight hours as the police carried checked almost every vehicle for weapons, ammunition and explosives, fearing that they would be used in riots during the September 19 to 28 summit.

Long delays were also reported at Prague airport and on the railways.

The police and pressure groups reported that scores of people had been turned back at the border, mostly to Germany.

On the outskirts of Prague, protesters linked to the umbrella group Initiative Against Economic Globalisation said they had set up a camp at a farm 37 miles outside the city, but refused to reveal the exact location.

In the next few days 25 activists will be trained in demonstration management, first aid, tree climbing and samba dancing.

As the biggest security operation in the Czech Republic's history got under way, the police stressed that their main aim was not to crush the demonstrations or the scheduled "counter summit".

"Our prime concern is to ensure the smooth-running of the conference from start to finish," the police president, Jiri Kolar, said.

He said that after close cooperation with officers from the FBI and Scotland Yard, the Czech police had lists of "several hundred people whose entry into the Czech Republic is undesirable at the time of the meeting", including protesters who took part in the May Day riots in London.

About 23,000 delegates and 15,000 to 25,000 protesters are expected to attend the meeting.

There have been 5,000 bookings over the internet for a "tent city" set up in a former communist concrete monolith, the Strahov stadium.

This the first such event to be held in a country of the former Soviet bloc, and the authorities are nervous.

Eleven thousand police officers - more than a quarter of the country's entire force - backed-up by 1,600 soldiers will be present in Prague. About 100 independent observers will monitor the actions of the police.

"We've never had to deal with anything like this before," the police spokeswoman, Ivana Zelenakova, said.

"The water cannons have not been used since the demonstrations in the run-up to the 'Velvet Revolution' of 1989, so we're having to dust them off."

Teargas equipment has been borrowed from Germany.

"The British police persuaded us to use mounted police because they create a distinct psychological advantage by towering above protesters," Ms Zelenakova said.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000

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