IMF protestors in minor skirmishes with police

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Demonstrators trying to hinder world financial meetings scuffled with police near the World Bank headquarters early on Monday, as authorities sealed off nearly 90 blocks in the heart of the city so meetings could go ahead.

At one intersection, helmeted police fired pepper spray to disperse demonstrators who were trying to storm barricades. Some protesters donned gas masks.

"There was a convoy of delegates that got trapped by the crowds and the officers were trying to get them out," Police Chief Charles Ramsey said.

Police said 90 demonstrators were taken into custody and loaded onto buses, but the charges against them weren't immediately known. Several hundred were arrested Saturday and a few dozen Sunday.

"Our intent is to keep this under control, to keep it peaceful and to get through this," said Mayor Anthony Williams. He said in a CNN interview that officials anticipated "some ratcheting up" of the confrontations with protesters as the day wore on.

The protests were much smaller than those over the weekend intended to disrupt the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings. Several hundred were gathering at the Ellipse on the National Mall, within sight of the White House, for a planned noon rally. President Bill Clinton was out of town.

In answer to megaphone appeals by organizers, who asked for people willing to face arrest, groups of the Ellipse crowd began a march toward World Bank headquarters. The march generally was good-natured, and tourists were seen snapping pictures and videotaping the marchers.

By daybreak, authorities already had spirited most of the conference delegates by bus to the meeting site. And a feared massive traffic jam didn't immediately materialize as many federal workers followed the advice of superiors and took the day off.

Some National Guard troops joined District of Columbia police to assist in handling the crowds of protesters.

At one intersection, helmeted police fired pepper spray in the faces of demonstrators who were trying to storm barricades. Some protesters donned gas masks.

At least 50 demonstrators were taken into custody and loaded onto school buses, but the charges against them weren't immediately known.

Despite a steady rain and police reinforcements, the mood remained defiant.

Several hundred people marched through the streets of the central city, chanting "Whose streets? Our streets," banging plastic buckets and carrying a variety of flags and banners. One said, "Animal Rights Activists Say No to Globalization."

"We sent a message that business as usual will not happen at these neo-colonial, neo-liberal institutions any more," said Dorothee Benz, 35, of Brooklyn, New York.

Yet in contrast to the large weekend protests, only a few hundred were marching in the gray dawn. About 75 demonstrators attempted to block vans carrying finance officials into the finance meeting, but the vehicles simply turned around and took another route.

By daybreak, authorities already had spirited most of the conference delegates by bus to the meeting site in the heart of downtown.

After two raucous days of marches, street theater and confrontations with police, the federal government closed its agencies in the potential protest zone, an 11-by-8-block swath east and west of the White House. Both the federal and local governments encouraged all but essential workers to stay home on leave.

Police Chief Charles Ramsey noted that things started relatively smoothly on Monday. "Thankfully, a lot of people stayed away, which is good," he said when asked about likely traffic jams.

But he also said authorities weren't letting down their guard.

"You'll see an increased presence throughout the day, and we'll continue to do what we need to do to make sure the city stays safe," he said.

Thousands of marchers failed to stop world finance leaders from meeting Sunday. But they paraded through the capital in a show of celebration and anger, punctuated by occasional confrontations.

Festive street theater with giant puppets coexisted with confrontations between police trying to keep the streets open and the finance meetings safe and protesters agitating about the plight of the poor and "decadence" of the rich.

At one point, police in riot gear and on motorcycles charged into a crowd that had surged toward the police line. Police used pepper spray and what they said were smoke bombs to drive back the protesters, who were convinced they'd been tear gassed.

But unlike the protests that overwhelmed police and smashed windows in rainy Seattle to disrupt and block trade meetings late last year, the weekend demonstrations were largely nonviolent on a hot, sunny Sunday.

"I've seen a whole lot less property damage than after a Bulls game in Chicago," said Han Shan, a protest organiser from the San Francisco-based group Ruckus.

Police, who estimated as many as 10,000 protesters were on the streets Sunday, blocked off a downtown area as large as 90 square blocks and let demonstrators largely have their way outside the security zone. Protest leaders estimated their crowds at more than 30,000.

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