Opponents of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced yesterday that they would stage two days of protests to coincide with annual meetings the two institutions will host beginning Friday.
The organizers said the highlight will be a demonstration Saturday outside the World Bank's downtown headquarters, followed by a march to Dupont Circle.
The organizers, who unveiled their plans at a news conference at the National Press Building, said they expect several thousand participants, but they acknowledged that they won't draw nearly the crowds of five years ago, when 20,000 convened for often raucous demonstrations.
Basav Sen, an activist with the Mobilization for Global Justice, a sponsor of the demonstrations, said the decline in attendance since that year might be a result of protesters being more focused on issues such as the Iraq war.
But Sen also said the demonstrations have created a substantial movement for change at the two 61-year old institutions, which protesters say promote policies that foster poverty and inequality. "We are not a fad. We are a movement," he said.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said he did not expect problems from protesters. Nevertheless, he said, police officials have adjusted days off for most officers to bolster security and put more officers on the street.
Police plan to shut down some of downtown to car and truck traffic Friday through Sunday, an area bordered roughly by 18th, 20th, F and I streets NW.
"We'll have everybody working," Ramsey said. "We don't anticipate any problems."
As in the past, the organizers list four demands: that the bank open board meetings to the media; that it cancel the debts of impoverished countries; that it stop financing "environmentally and socially destructive" projects; and that it stop "imposing harmful economic conditions" on countries.
Organizers have also found a new target for protest, the appointment of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz as the World Bank's president. In fliers and news releases, organizers focused on Wolfowitz. He was described as the "architect of and intellectual driving force behind the Iraq invasion and occupation" in a newsletter issued by 50 Years Is Enough Network, a coalition of organizations opposed to the World Bank.
However, Sen said demonstrators do not want Wolfowitz to eclipse more fundamental concerns about bank policies. "It's one of our themes, but we don't want to overemphasize it," he said of Wolfowitz. "Wolfowitz is not going to make [the bank] substantially different."
Damian Milverton, a spokesman for the World Bank, said the bank "respects" demonstrators' rights to "come out and share their opinions."
"But ultimately," he said, "we are as concerned as they are about helping the poor. That's the bottom line. We differ in our opinion on how best to achieve that."
The bank, Milverton said, has talked extensively with nongovernmental and activist groups on issues such as the environment and debt relief. Those discussions, he said, have "contributed" to the dwindling size of the protests.
"Those groups with serious views know they can talk to us," he said. "They don't have to stand on the street and yell."
The demonstrators are to stage their first protest at noon Friday outside the Department of the Treasury, where finance ministers from the world's seven wealthiest nations are to discuss debt cancellation for underdeveloped countries.
On Saturday, the demonstration is scheduled to begin at noon in Murrow Park, across from the World Bank, where the protesters have obtained a permit for as many as 5,000 people. After that, protesters are to march north on 18th Street to Dupont Circle, where they plan to convene for "an afternoon of music, poetry and creative education," according to a news release.
Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.