Prague's police aim to tolerate protests

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The Independent Online

Czech police, desperate to avoid the violence of Seattle, will operate a "maximum tolerance" policy at this month's meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Prague.

Czech police, desperate to avoid the violence of Seattle, will operate a "maximum tolerance" policy at this month's meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Prague.

Violence is expected as 20,000 anti-globalisation protesters descend on Prague in the next two weeks. Officers believe up to 3,000 of them will be hardliners intent on trouble.

"The police will not initiate any action," says Ivana Zelenakova, a force spokeswoman. "It's better to tolerate than to start anything, because that would only lead to more and more aggression."

But protesters will be taking on police renowned for hardline tactics under communism. In 1998, they were heavily criticised for breaking up Czech anarchist protests with excessive violence. Several protestors were badly beaten, and bystanders were detained in mass arrests.

Witnesses say police at first took too little action, then overreacted when things got out of hand. "The police weren't used to large crowds in 1998," says Ms Zelenakova. "Since then we've policed a lot of street protests, and done a lot of training in non-violent ways of breaking up demonstrations."

But the police aim to keep control. Hardline protesters are believed to be planning to break into the meetings to disrupt them, and the Czech Initiative against Economic Globalisation (Inpeg) says it will peacefully blockade the meetings. The police say these protests will not be allowed.

The force will be armed with tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition. But their guns will not be loaded. Their Czech-made CZ-82 pistols are so unsafe that two years ago, when an officer dropped his gun, a passer-by was shot dead.

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