It wasn't quite like scaling the Himalayas, but it was enough to attract the attention of the World Bank, the D.C. police and hundreds of onlookers.
Two Tibetan-rights activists yesterday clambered up the face of the World Bank's 13-story headquarters at 1818 H St. NW, shimmied up steel cables that hold up a metal-and-glass awning and unfurled a banner that read, "World Bank Approves China's Genocide in Tibet."
The protest was directed against the bank's approval Thursday of a loan that helps relocate poor Chinese farmers to territory in western China that Tibetans have traditionally regarded as their own. China, whose troops occupied Tibet in 1950, views the area as an autonomous but inseparable part of its territory. Many Tibetans accuse China of trying to erase their culture.
The banner remained up for nearly two hours as police officers gathered in front of the bank, along with a lunch-time crowd of office workers and pedestrians. Meanwhile, about 50 pro-Tibet activists marched and negotiated with bank officials on the sidewalk.
After World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and other officials agreed to meet with protesters and not to press charges, John Hocevar and Han Shan slowly descended the cables, bringing the 25-foot banner with them. Hocevar is executive director of Students for a Free Tibet.
The protest was conducted by a coalition of groups that oppose the loan, which was approved in a rare split vote by the bank's 24-member board. Representatives of the United States and Germany opposed the loan.
The most controversial part of the loan is a $40 million package to resettle impoverished farmers in China's Qinghai province from a hilly region to a little-populated area a couple of hundred miles away. That area is regarded by Tibetan-rights activists as a historic part of Tibet.
Jean-Michel Severino, the World Bank's vice president for East Asia and the Pacific region, said in an interview that only 40 percent of the resettled farmers are Han Chinese and that the project won't change the ethnic makeup of the resettled area.
"The bank is not equipped to solve the Tibetan issue on a global scale," a bank official said.
Dana Clark, a lawyer who participated in the march, said bank officials listened to protesters and seemed open to more talks. But, she said, "we're not going to lighten up our efforts."
CAPTION: Tibetan Karma Gyaltsen protests World Bank support of a Chinese government plan to relocate poor farmers.