Banner-toting protesters return to the streets of Washington

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The Independent US

Hundreds of chanting protesters took to the streets of the nation's capital Sunday, sitting down in intersections and blocking traffic in a massive march and demonstration against international financial policy.

With helicopters whirling overhead and police sirens blasting, one group formed a circle about five blocks from the White House, their arms locked together in metal tubes. Over the past week, police have seized dozens of the devices - pieces of pipe where arms are inserted and then wrapped on the outside with chicken wire to form a human chain.

Protesters accuse the World Bank and International Monetary Fund of destroying the environment with dams and similar projects, allowing sweatshops and imposing harsh debt-repayment programs that weaken developing countries.

On Saturday a large banner reading, "IMF Plus World Bank Equals Hundreds Rich, Billions Poor," was hung by protesters who blocked a street near the downtown campus of George Washington University. Not far away, a dozen demonstrators jumped on the bumpers of a couple of tour buses, yelling at the sightseers inside, "Get off the bus, join us."

Marchers carried signs with slogans like "Stop the War Against Poor." Another group carried a large bright pink papier mache pig emblazoned with the words "World Bank" and holding a globe in its mouth.

All day Saturday, busloads of protesters poured into the city for a series of demonstrations that were to peak Sunday and Monday.

Police estimated 600 people were arrested for parading without a permit, and similar charges, and led peacefully to waiting buses. Helmet-wearing officers made some 50 blocks off-limits around the World Bank headquarters, barring everyone from getting past.

Arrests which began early Saturday when police raided protesters' headquarters continued into the into the cool, damp night - weather reminiscent of the Seattle scene last December when protests disrupted a World Trade Organization meeting.

"We have a right to be here and we also have a right to protest and we also have a right to walk away," said protester Larry Holmes, complaining that police had penned demonstrators in a barricaded area to arrest them.

Protesters complained that there was no warning before the arrests began.

"No matter how many of us are arrested, we are resolved to carry our message to the streets," said Ilyse Hogue of the Mobilization for Global Justice, the key organizer of the weekend demonstrations.

Demonstrators took over an abandoned row house in a poor part of the city as neighbors shouted at police to do something, and an anti-sweatshop demonstration outside a Gap clothing store on Saturday turned into an impromptu striptease when police took a man wearing a grass skirt with nothing underneath into custody and made him put on underwear.

That prompted a dozen or so other people in a crowd of 200 to strip down to their skivvies.

But the largest group of protesters congregated as close as they could get to the World Bank and its sister lending institution, the IMF, upset that police had shut down their protest headquarters, declaring it to be unsafe.