Published on Thursday, September 21, 2000 in the Guardian of London
Prague Protesters To Face Down Money Men
by Kate Connolly in Prague
Anti-globalisation activists and international bankers are bracing themselves for a week of street action and possible confrontation planned to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund in Prague.

Hundreds of protesters have already gathered in the Czech capital and tens of thousands are expected to arrive within the next few days in the run up to the opening day of the summit on Tuesday.

Yesterday they outlined their protest schedule, which peaks with plans to blockade the meeting place of the world bankers and financiers, in an effort to persuade leaders to "dismantle" the two institutions.

"We will surround the conference centre until we've made our point clear, and until they decide for themselves on abolishing both institutions," said Alice Dvorska of Inpeg, the Initiative against economic globalisation, an umbrella group uniting most of the protesters.

The summit is the first of its kind to be held in a former Soviet bloc country. A counter summit, S26, on Tuesday will be accompanied by protest action in more than 40 other countries. Organisers stressed that S26 would be non-violent and would start in the morning with a "rally for global justice", with thousands of protesters expected to gather in Prague's Namesti Miru (Peace Square). They would then begin a "unity march" towards the conference centre in the south of the city, despite being refused a legal permit by city hall officials who cited "traffic complications".

Police spokeswoman Iva Knolova said: "Thanks to the security measures we have taken, the opponents will not manage to carry out the planned blockade, and we will increase even further the number of guards around the congress centre and monitor the situation closely."

Authorities expressed fears that Prague would become a stage for violence, announcing a ban on demonstrations in some city districts, and in many cases refusing to grant legal permits for specific rallies and marches.

Festive mood

But Ms Dvorska said: "We hope to create an atmosphere that is festive and celebratory, but that also demonstrates our outrage at the unjust, misguided policies that the IMF and World Bank force upon the world."

In the north-east of Prague finishing touches were being put to a huge tent-city at the giant Strahov stadium. It will open today and has room to house 15,000 protesters at a cost of £26 per person for the duration of the conference.

Protesters said they had sent an open letter to the Czech President, Vaclav Havel, asking the former dissident to defend their right to protest. "In November 1989 we won some fundamental democratic rights, including the right to free assembly and free expression of political opinions," the letter read. "We demand that our fundamental civil rights and freedoms are respected."

Visitors arriving in the Czech Republic yesterday were reporting long delays at the borders amid stringent police checks.

Police said they had turned back 600 people on the border with Germany. "Half of them weren't allowed in because their cars were deemed to be in too bad a condition, and most of the others were carrying dangerous objects or didn't have valid documents," said west Bohemia police spokeswoman Milada Sucha.

Chelsea Mozen of Inpeg said they were lobbying for three Dutch cooks who had been turned back: "We find it hard to believe how organic vegetarian cooks could be a threat to national security."

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000