Update: Washington Police Make 600 Arrests

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Top World News Sun, 16 Apr 2000, 1:02am EDT Washington Police Make 600 Arrests, Raid Protesters (Update2) By Paul Basken

Washington, April 15 (Bloomberg) -- Police cracked down on protesters against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, arresting about 600 marchers and raiding their headquarters before a major rally tomorrow as the global lenders start their joint spring meeting.

After following hundreds of marchers as they walked through city streets, police trapped them on a block of downtown Washington near the headquarters of the IMF and World Bank around 6:30 p.m. and herded them aboard several buses, their wrists tied with plastic handcuffs.

Washington, D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey said ``about 600 or so'' protesters were arrested and charged with parading without a permit. ``We are in mass-arrest mode,'' Ramsey told reporters. ``The protesters were given several opportunities to disperse, and they didn't, so we took action.''

Witnesses said the demonstrators, among a larger group that formed hours earlier for a protest rally outside the Justice Department several blocks away, had been warned that they were marching without a permit.

Some were defiant. ``This is the face of America. We will not be stopped. We are against the IMF and the World Bank,'' an unidentified woman with a black fleece jacket and a red backpack said as she was led aboard one bus amid a steady drizzle.

A crowd of several hundred gathered on each end of the block of 20th Street between I and K streets, blocked from the scene by baton-wielding police wearing helmets, shields, and chest and shin pads. The crowd outside shouted, ``Let them go, let them go,'' while those caught inside pleaded over a megaphone to be set free. Some on the outside set fire to a U.S. flag.

Bracing For Protests

Police, along with merchants and city residents, are bracing for mass demonstrations against the global lenders as tensions heighten over the organizations' meetings tomorrow and Monday.

Police-escorted buses will transport delegates and staff to the meetings, according to bank spokeswoman Merrell Tuck. Protests at the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle last year, which security officials in Washington have studied, prevented some WTO delegates from attending the session.

Earlier today, police raided the demonstrators' headquarters, about two miles north of downtown, arresting two people and confiscating materials to be used in the rally tomorrow.

The action followed another raid last night in which three people were arrested and more than 100 devices for linking people together to block traffic were seized before they could be used in a planned shutdown of the two lenders' annual meetings, police said.

Police also gathered at the home of World Bank President James Wolfensohn this morning after about 20 protesters arrived to deliver a letter complaining about bank practices, said one demonstrator, Neil Tangri of Essential Action, a corporate watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader.

Peter Erlinder, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, arrived at the scene on 20th Street as police held the mass of demonstrators trapped inside the block and tried without luck to convince officers to let him mediate. ``The police are fomenting an incident here,'' Erlinger said. ``They had no cause to stop them at all. What they were doing was completely legal. What the police are doing now is completely illegal.''

Police said they raided the protesters' headquarters in a warehouse about 2 miles north of downtown around 8 a.m. today out of concern about possible fire code violations, but also said they might have thwarted plans for the major protest tomorrow. ``The fact that it has some advantage to us? You're absolutely right it does,'' said Deputy Police Chief Terrance Gainer.

Warehouse Raid

Police and city firefighters entering the warehouse ``very quickly saw some very serious fire violations,'' Gainer said. He cited a ``jury-rigged'' electrical box, a cooking area with propane and live fire, stairwells blocked without exit signs, and chemicals that included rubbing alcohol, turpentine, and paint with no ventilation, Gainer said.

Gainer also said police found a plastic container with a rag inside that ``clearly was a Molotov cocktail.'' Following denials by protest organizers, Gainer conceded it didn't contain any flammable material. ``There is nothing inside that could be construed as anything dangerous,'' said Nadine Bloch of the Mobilization for Global Justice, the umbrella organization representing some 400 protest groups.

Protesters were using the warehouse to build puppets for street theater performances critical of the IMF and World Bank, to train participants in non-violent civil disobedience, and to hold educational seminars, Bloch said.

Chief Ramsey later joined officers in returning to the protesters their signs and poster materials, along with food that had been inside.

Gainer acknowledged police entered without a search warrant although he said they were accompanying firefighters. Firefighters don't need warrants to inspect commercial buildings, said a Fire Department spokesman, Captain Brian Lee. ``In 30 years of practicing law in D.C. and representing a lot of demonstrators in D.C., I don't think I've seen anything as outrageous as what occurred this morning,'' said attorney Jim Drew of the National Lawyers Guild.

Some downtown businesses, such as Citigroup Inc.'s Citibank, are putting up plywood to protect their windows, while others plan to close for the next few days, mindful of protests in Seattle late last year that turned violent.

Barricades Erected

Police placed metal pedestrian barricades on streets surrounding the White House and the Treasury Department building. Inside, Treasury workers installed plastic sheeting on windows to keep out tear gas.

The planned protests were initially described by organizers as an outgrowth of the Seattle demonstrations at the WTO summit.

With Washington police demonstrating more preparation and experience in containing protests than their counterparts in Seattle, some protesters said raising awareness of their objections to the lenders' policies was more important than shutting down the IMF and World Bank.

``It doesn't matter so much if we shut them down on April 16 because we're going start building a movement to hold them accountable all the time,'' said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for the Mobilization for Global Justice.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), April 16, 2000


Sounds like the party is getting rough.

-- Loner (loner@bigfoot.com), April 16, 2000.

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