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Turkish Police Battle IMF Protesters in Istanbul

Patrick Hosking

Police fire water cannon against IMF protesters. (Osman Orsal/Reuters)

ISTANBUL - Turkish police used water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray today to disperse
hundreds of demonstrators protesting against the annual meetings of the
International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Masked protesters shattered the windows of a McDonald's restaurant and banks
and damaged vehicles as they ran into the streets behind Istanbul's landmark
Taksim Square, which is less than half a mile from the complex where the
financiers are meeting.

Thousands of police wearing gas masks and protective gear erected barriers
around the venue and detained dozens of protesters - mostly members of small
leftwing parties or labour unions. CNN-Turk television said that some
foreign protesters were also involved.

Clouds of tear gas filled the air above Taksim Square while firefighters
battled a blaze apparently set by protesters. Passers-by and reporters were
also affected by the tear gas. Police helicopters hovered above the crowds.

Along the famous tourist route of Istiklal Street, shop owners pulled down
their shutters and customers hid inside, deserting a once-busy thoroughfare.

Security has been tight at the International Congress Centre since the
meetings began last week with armed police and large groups of security
guards highly visible, but the policing was stepped up dramatically today
even before any trouble flared.

At the main entrance to Taksim Square, large contingents of blue-uniformed
police carrying gas masks, riot shields and weapons gathered since early
this morning. Many wore body armour.

Before the violence flared three female protesters had managed to get within a
few yards of the main entrance, mingling with the thousands of bankers and
officials entering the complex.

As soon as they began to chant in protest, they were surrounded by both
uniformed and plain-clothed officers who grabbed them, clamped hands to
their mouths and frogmarched them to a police van with blacked-out windows.

At the back entrance to the congress centre - a mass of new buildings and
roadways spread over a wide hillside area and surrounded by high temporary
fencing - four dozen uniformed police marched in, many wearing helmets and
carrying riot shields. A helicopter hovered overhead.

Delegates walking into the conference have to pass through two airport-style
metal detector doorways and have their bags checked. Similar arrangements
are in place in the vestibules of the main hotels where delegates and
bankers are staying.

Turkey and the International Monetary Fund are engaged in slow-moving talks
about a new loan deal that could boost investor confidence, but Turkey has
been reluctant to cut spending and implement austerity measures.

Last week, a student journalist hurled a shoe at Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the
IMF director answered questions at a university in Istanbul. The shoe missed
its target.

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