Protestors of Seattle take aim at D.C. talks


WASHINGTON -- Fresh from a massive and occasionally violent demonstration against the World Trade Organization, the people who produced the battle in Seattle have taken their show on the road and are coming to a national capital near you.

This time they have fastened their attention on two other multinational institutions identified with world commerce.

Thousands of activists, many of them veterans of Seattle, plan demonstrations in Washington April 16 and April 17 to protest the policies, in some cases the very existence, of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The protest, directed at a two-day meeting of IMF and World Bank ministers, will be preceded by other D.C. demonstrations, some only loosely related to the main event but seeking to share its limelight.

"I would be extremely pleased if the IMF and the World Bank were brought to their knees, if they were to become more attentive to people's needs around the world, if they were to become more democratic," said Barbara Larcom, a Baltimore woman working to alleviate poverty in Nicaraugua.

People promising to join Larcom here include environmentalists, union members and advocates for the Third World poor along with peace activists and self-described anarchists.

The costumed sea turtles that danced in Seattle to draw attention to ocean degradation will converge on the headquarters of the organizations at 19th and H streets Northwest, organizers promise. In another tactic borrowed from the WTO action, some protesters plan to link arms and block access by IMF and World Bank delegates.

Michael Moore, filmmaker and corporate critic, is to serve as master of ceremonies at a rally on the Ellipse, near the White House

On Sunday a group called Jubilee 2000 with hold a rally on the Mall to push for debt reduction for developing nations.

On Wednesday, organizers say 10,000 union members will lobby Congress against approving a pending trade agreement with China. Unions argue that the pact will cost U.S. jobs.

Washington law enforcement agencies are bracing for big crowds and possible violence. The U.S. Park Police have summoned reinforcements from New York and San Francisco, as they often do for large D.C. demonstrations.

"What happened in Seattle does have an impact on how we're planning this," said Rob MacLean, Park Police spokesman. "We realize there is the potential for violence and civil disobedience."

The D.C. police department plans to activate its entire force and has been showing videos of the Seattle protest to its officers as an example of how not to handle big crowds. Law enforcement officers have been donning riot gear and rehearsing tactics for dealing with civil disobedience.

IMF and World Bank officials eye the approaching confrontations with bemused annoyance and forced humor.

"Blocking of access to various institutions is not something that is legal," IMF acting director Stanley Fischer told reporters this week. "The meeting should take place."

Asked if the finance delegates should exchange their customary limousines for helicopters, the better to skirt the mob, Fischer said, "We hadn't figured that out. Perhaps it's a good idea."

"That's a joke," his media-relations assistant felt forced to point out. Then he added, "I think."

Smaller demonstration

There are reasons to believe that the Washington "mobilization," as the activists describe their protest, won't be as big as the one aimed at the WTO last fall.

In a week of protests in Seattle, the crowds swelled to more than 20,000 and by some estimates surpassed 40,000. More than 500 people were arrested.

Dozens were injured by police truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Local merchants estimated that they lost more than $20 million in sales.

Nobody knows how many will show up to here. "You could have anywhere from 5,000 up," said Sgt. Joe Gentile, D. C. police department spokesman .

But even some of the protest coordinators don't expect a Seattle-type turnout.

"I'm not sure it's going to be as big in terms of numbers," said Andrea Durbin, director of international programs for Friends of the Earth's American branch. "I think it'll be as big in visuals and coalitions and coming together. The organizing for this didn't start until after Seattle" in December, giving activists relatively little time to prepare, she added.

Even so, the IMF-World Bank protest is attracting intense attention, even in Washington, where 300,000 once decried the Vietnam War and where the Million Man March, which didn't hit its goal, still mustered more than 400,000.

Familiar themes

The Seattle protest, viewed as a watershed in the global movement against unfettered capitalism and trade, occupied TV screens and newspaper front pages for a week in November and December. The Washington demonstration features many of the same themes, rhetoric and participants as the WTO event.

As a result, it is seen by both protesters and officials as Seattle's other shoe, waiting to drop.

"This is all 'shadow of Seattle' stuff," said Mike Dolan, deputy director of Global Trade Watch in Washington. Dolan, a key organizer in Seattle, is peripherially involved in the IMF event.."

The WTO, which helps regulate international tariffs and works to promote free trade, has little to do with the IMF and the World Bank. But activists say all three groups advance the interests of corporate shareholders and international bureaucrats at the expense of workers, the poor and the environment.

"It's driven by the whole neo-liberal economic agenda, trickle-down economic theory," said Njoki Njehu, who was in Seattle and who is head of 50 Years Is Enough, a Washington group that has criticized the World Bank and IMF for years. "It's our opposition to the sweatshop economy."

The IMF and World Bank were formed to provide a financial foundation for the global monetary and financial assistance systems that emerged after World War II.

The IMF's main job is to maintain stable relationships among world currencies. The World Bank issues loans for dams, electrical grids, roads and other projects in developing nations.

Both groups have about 180 members. Both are financed mainly by the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada and Australia.

As in Seattle, it's hard to summarize what the Washington protesters want.

Some do have concrete requests. Forgive the obligations of Third World nations crippled by international debt. Make the World Bank and IMF more open, more democratic. Be more lenient in allowing nations to run deficits for social programs. Require environmental assessments.for development.

But some IMF-World Bank critics seem to want nothing less than a revolution of the proletariet against the "global elites."

The activities planned for Washington, like Seattle, involves dozens of groups, who communicate over the Internet or through loosely organized committees.

"People are saying, 'Who is your leader? Take us to your leader,'" said Njehu. "Well, we don't have one. What we have is a collective organization."

Both the IMF and World Bank have attracted substantial contempt from mainstream critics, and not just on the left. Conservatives charge the IMF with helping to create the 1997 Asian financial crisis, with providing corporate welfare to multinational banks and with allowing billions to be siphoned off by Third World crooks.

IMF and World Bank officials acknowledge that their institutions have room for improvement.

Allegations of embezzlement of IMF loans "are grave causes for concern," acting director Fischer said. But he bristled at suggestions that the IMF and World Bank are harmful or sinister.

The freer trade and global capitalism that developed after World War II have led to "unprecedented prosperity," he said.

"I am concerned, of course, that critics see us causing damage in the world economy. -- I think we're a force for good."

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