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World: Demonstrators Use Violence To Try to Disprupt Bank Talks

Prague, 26 September (RFE/RL) -- Scattered incidents of violence marked anti-globalization protests in Prague today, as the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF officially convened in the Czech capital.

Protesters gathered near the city center and attempted to march on the Prague Congress Center, south of the city's center, where delegates were meeting to hear keynote addresses by top officials and Czech President Vaclav Havel.

As protesters neared the Congress Center, some of them charged lines of riot police and hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails.

Police responded with tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades. A blanket of smoke covered the area. Czech police said there were more than 20 people injured on both sides.

Police then ordered protesters to disperse or face undisclosed measures. They had earlier cordoned of the Congress Center in anticipation of violence.

"Citizens, your gathering is against the laws of the Czech Republic. Therefore, we call on the organizers, in the name of the law, to finish [spoken in English]."

The crowd refused to disperse, and a tense standoff ensued.

The protesters had vowed to bottle up delegates in the Congress Center in what many were anticipating would be the major demonstration of the annual IMF and World Bank gathering.

In spite of the disruptions, delegates and meeting officials managed to complete their agenda.

In his speech to delegates today, World Bank President James Wolfensohn addressed some of the aims of the protesters to change the course of globalization so that more of the world's population could share in economic growth:

"We cannot turn globalization back. Our challenge is to make globalization an instrument of opportunity and inclusion, not of fear and insecurity."

Earlier in the day, the atmosphere was festive as 4,000 activists convened at Peace Square (Namesti Miru), not far from the center of town. An array of causes and groups were represented, including Basque separatists, Turkish and Italian communists, Greek and German trade unionists, as well as assorted activists with an array of causes from North America to the Czech Republic and England.

They too came ready to shout slogans denouncing the IMF, World Bank and capitalism in general, not always using the most polite language.

"Our world is not for sale! Our world is not for sale!"

Although there was great diversity among the demonstrators, their turnout was lower than the 20,000 to 40,000 the organizers had hoped for.

Activists were seeking to shut down the IMF and World Bank meetings in much the same way that protesters in Seattle last year spoiled the meeting of the World Trade Organization.

For Jeff Engels, a longshoreman from Seattle who took part in protests there last year, the demonstrations are already a success. He says he has little doubt, though, that media covering the event will make it look like a defeat.

"[The media will] probably make it look like a defeat, when actually it was a tremendous victory that we're all here challenging these institutions."

That some of the demonstrators chose to resort to violence may mean that those who came out to express peacefully their voices will get lost in the commotion.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.