Riot fears force IMF to cut meeting short

By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
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The Independent US

Anti-globalisation campaigners have scored a considerable victory by forcing the World Bank and the IMF to shorten drastically their annual meeting in Washington next month.

In a joint statement, the organisations said they were cutting the meeting from a week to just two days to try to avoid the sort of chaos and disruption that erupted at the G8 summit in Genoa last month.

Police are expecting more than 50,000 demonstrators to descend on the US capital for the talks, which include an important meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Seven industrialised nations. At the meeting in April last year, more than 600 people were arrested after a series of running skirmishes between demonstrators and police.

The World Bank spokesman, Merrell Tuck, said the decision to confine the talks to the weekend of 29 and 30 September was taken purely because of the perceived threat of violence. "The expressed intent of violence of a few parties is diminishing the chance to meet with people of good faith to discuss our points of view," she said. "We feel that there is going to be some loss. This is an unfortunate setback."

A spokesman for the IMF, Francisco Baker, said: "The threat assessment came from the US authorities. The host country said this. They did not want the disruption to life in the city. It has been done to make life easier for the population." Concern about the threat of disruption to the meeting has been mounting since the chaos that erupted at the G8 summit in Genoa, during which a demonstrator was shot by police. Since then, the leading industrial nations have been trying to assess the best way of avoiding disruption at similar events.

Last week, Washington's mayor, Anthony Williams, warned President George W Bush that the city could not guarantee safety unless the government helped meet the $50m security costs, which includes paying for thousands of police officers drafted in from New York. He will meet White House officials to discuss the matter tomorrow.

"The protests and demonstrations... will be of an intensity, scope and magnitude that we have never seen in this city," he wrote in a letter to the President.

Mr Williams said that having seen what had happened at recent summits, without Federal help "[the city] is not in a position to ensure the safety of citizens... or to prevent the massive potential property damage''.

Despite the decision by the two international finance groups, it seems certain that the protests will still go ahead. One protest group, the Mobilization for Global Justice, said there were no plans to call off the demonstration.

"This is our opportunity to focus the public's mind on these problems,'' said spokesman David Levy. "They are using the prospect of violence to avoid bad publicity.'' Even before the latest move, the IMF and World Bank had truncated their usual two-week meeting to just one week. In addition, the lenders decided to move the talks to their city centre headquarters, from a hotel in the Woodley Park neighbourhood, where they are normally held.