Battle of Seattle switches to IMF in Washington

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The Independent US

Just four months after their triumph of disruption in Seattle, the multifarious ranks of anti-globalisers are taking to the streets again, intent on re-running the battle of Seattle as the war of Washington.

An advance guard of several thousand launched the new offensive yesterday, with a rally on the National Mall, the main thoroughfare of Washington demonstrations, followed by the formation of a "human chain" around the Capitol building - all in aid of cancelling Third World debt.

This opening rally, however, seemed low-key and the crowds were sparse, discouraged perhaps by the unseasonably bitter cold. The targets of the planned 10 days of protests, teach-ins and lobbying are the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which hold their spring meetings in the US capital over the next two weeks.

Joined into a loose coalition called the Mobilisation for Global Justice, the protesters see the IMF and World Bank as the "parent organisations" of the World Trade Organisation that was the focus of the Seattle demonstrations. Their campaign is planned to culminate next weekend with two days of mass protest designed to paralyse Washington and thwart the meetings.

The multiplicity of alternative groups - environmentalists, anti-poverty campaigners and anti-capitalist groups - is supported by the umbrella association of US trade unions, the AFL-CIO. This is the same alliance of new-style activists and old-style organised labour - both of which see globalisation as contrary to their interests - that was so effective in Seattle.

If anything, the campaigners' organisation this time around is even more impressive than four months ago, with every medium, new (the internet) and old (megaphones and hand-painted placards), harnessed to their crusade. And Mobilising for Global Justice has set up headquarters, with consummate political correctness, in a part of north-west Washington that is right on the white-black borderline of this near-segregated city.

But if the protesters have honed their organisation in the past four months, the authorities have been even busier, and Washington has made no secret of its determination to prevent the gridlock, disorder and violence of Seattle.

For a start, the political establishment is not making the mistake of ignoring the protest movement. The protest leaders have been invited to take part in radio and television discussions, and have done so. Yesterday's rally was televised live, and speakers included Gene Spurling, the White House economic adviser, who read a message from President Clinton paying tribute to the campaigners and their cause.

Much will depend, however, on whether the organised majority of protesters will be able to pre-empt the actions of fringe groups who may be intent on violence.