Victory for both sides in protests over IMF

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The Independent US

Protests against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headed towards a peaceful end in Washington yesterday, leaving both police and protesters claiming victory.

Several thousand people blocked streets around the city for a second day, dancing and singing and sometimes trying to break through police lines. They were protesting against the activities of the IMF and World Bank which, they say, have brought poverty to millions in the developing world.

Skirmishes broke out across the city as protesters confronted police or as the authorities moved in to remove groups of people. Tear gas was fired once in the morning, "by mistake" according to police.

Hundreds more demonstrators were arrested, bringing the total to well over 1,000, but a clash was avoided after a compromise. The authorities. agreed to let demonstrators cross a police line, on condition that they were then arrested. These negotiated arrests satisfied honour on both sides, and then the protests wound down.

The protesters presented the police with a bunch of flowers after the compromise, and the police chief, Charles Ramsey, paid tribute to them at apress conference. "They are just kids with a cause. God bless them!" he said. "That's what America is all about."

Rain diminished the turnout, and the city continued to function, though many federal and local officials had been sent home for the day. "Gucci Gulch", the K Street corridor where the city's well-heeled lobbysist can normally be found, was deserted as police blocked all streets around the financial institutions. But finance ministers attending the spring meeting of the World Bank circumvented protesters by the simple tactic of arriving two hours early.

The protesters, too, viewed the day as a victory. "We have shined the light on these institutions as never before in this country," said Robert Weissman, co-director of Essential Action. The police targeted for special attention a group called the "Black Block", anarchists in black who believe that property damage is acceptable against institutions which they contend are violent. The group has attained semi-mythical status despite a lack of evidence it has done anything substantial.

Mr Ramsey assisted in the arrest of some protesters, gaining valuable headlines. Handling this event sensitively but forcefully was a tough challenge for a police force which has frequently attracted criticism. The police chief in Seattle, who badly botched last year's protests at the World Trade Organisation summit, later resigned in disgrace.

The mayor, Anthony Williams, said: "We've gone into this with the intent to allow for peaceful protest and at the same time allow for the IMF and World Bank to exercise their right to assembly."