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Protests Of Debt Eclectic, Subdued

World Bank, IMF Meetings Go On

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page C01

In the warm spring sunshine, a couple of hundred protesters outnumbered police and took over parts of downtown Washington yesterday, using puppets and percussion to send their message to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund during the groups' spring meetings.

The peaceful demonstration, which called for the cancellation of debt for poorer nations, came on the five-year anniversary of one of the anti-globalization movement's seminal rallies. Then, about 20,000 protesters took to the streets of Washington in a driving rain, interrupting the financial meetings and triggering a large police response that ended in hundreds of arrests.

Protesters march up 18th Street NW to Dupont Circle holding signs and large puppet-type floats. The peaceful rally came on the five-year anniversary of one of the anti-globalization movement's seminal rallies. D.C. police said there were no reported acts of vandalism or violence at this event. (Photos Ricki Carioti -- The Washington Post)

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No arrests were made yesterday, and the meetings were not affected. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said no acts of vandalism or violence were reported.

Fewer than 200 demonstrators showed up, Ramsey said. There was so little activity that commanders sent officers assigned to protest duty back to their districts for crime patrols. "It was quiet," Ramsey said. "There was no comparison" to past protests.

Demonstrators were not entirely disappointed with the turnout.

"I was here during the last April 16, and for a lot of us, it seemed like the earth was moving under our feet and anything was possible," said Mark Andersen, a longtime D.C. activist, recalling the event in 2000.

"But today, a turnout like this is misleading," Andersen said. "A lot of people who work in the system have taken this energy, this pressure from the outside, and have leverage to make changes from within.

"So there is some success even if the numbers aren't out here," he said.

Others said past clashes with police may have scared away some people who otherwise might have joined in the demonstrations.

"Seeing all the arrests and the pepper spray in the past probably kept a lot of people away," said Jess, a 23-year-old from Richmond who would not provide her full name because she did not want her employer to know that she has clashed with police in past demonstrations.

"It's really sad that I don't even have to write the lawyer's number on my arm anymore because I've memorized it," said Jess, who had red-and-black pompoms and danced to anti-globalization cheers as part of the Radical Cheerleaders.

Alice Wallerstein came with no expectation that she would be arrested.

The 75-year-old former English professor from Chevy Chase held a tiny anti-IMF flag between two fingers and stood looking at the World Bank building.

"This is my first time at one of these, but I just couldn't stand hearing about how the World Bank is not helping the people it should," Wallerstein said.

Damian Sean Milverton, acting media manager for the World Bank, said the demonstrators' numbers might be dwindling because of the outreach done by the organization and the IMF to activist groups from around the world, Milverton said.

Although protesters often characterize the World Bank as "a bunch of suit-wearers here for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails," the bank tries to reach out to world groups and "respect the opinion of people on the street," Milverton said.

At times, past demonstrations by the anti-globalization movement seemed like free-form expression festivals.

Activists representing anti-fur, feminist, anti-capitalist and vegan factions danced, marched and sometimes drowned out the messages to the World Bank and IMF.

At the event yesterday, there were puppets, stilt-walkers and drummers.

But the group seemed to have a much more unified message: Cancel the debt of impoverished countries.

"We are very clear about our message; it's crystallized, and it's important this demand is met," said Lacy MacAuley, an organizer for Mobilization for Global Justice.

Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company