University readies for IMF protest

University officials said the campus will follow its normal operating schedule during a Saturday World Bank and International Monetary Fund protest that is expected to be peaceful.

The demonstration’s main event will be a noon rally at Franklin Square, located at 14th and K streets, followed by a march to Murrow Park near World Bank headquarters at 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. This weekend, the international organizations will hold their annual spring meetings to discuss major economic issues facing the developing world.

Despite the protests, which will occur only blocks away from campus, GW will remain open, said John Petrie, assistant vice president of Public Safety and Emergency Management.

Besides the closure of the Jacob Burns Legal Clinic on at 2000 G St., “everything else should stay exactly as it should be,” Petrie said. Students will not be able to access the Law School and Building XX from their 20th Street entrances.

Petrie said there might be an act of “civil disobedience” Friday, but details about any potential demonstration were unavailable.

Protest organizers said their main goal is to convince the IMF and World Bank to cancel debts owed by impoverished, underdeveloped nations.

“We call it breaking the chains of debt,” said Morrigan Phillips, an outreach associate with Jubilee USA. “They’ve bound these countries, and they are unable to be free. They lack sovereignty.”

Senior Allie Robbins, a member of the Progressive Student Union, said about ten of the group’s members will be at the protests.

“Basically the state of the international economy right now is such that a whole lot of people are extremely poor and extremely exploited, and a lot of the developmental programs of the World Bank and the IMF are leading to that misery and that poverty,” Robbins said.

But IMF officials said they are taking the issue of debts seriously through programs that bring countries’ debt burdens to sustainable levels. Bill Murray, an IMF spokesman, said protesters must realize that the process of debt cancelation cannot occur overnight.

“We’ve heard these criticisms before, and I think they’re based on old information and that they (protesters) are not paying attention to what’s been happening on recent issues,” Murray said.

Murray pointed out that recently the African country Niger got $1.2 billion in debt relief as a result of efforts by the IMF and World Bank.

“I understand why they’re going to be on the streets raising this issue – it’s a legitimate one, but where we may take issue is any notion that we’re somehow ignoring it,” Murray said. “The implication is that we don’t give a hoot, but that’s not the case.”

Compared to previous protests that drew upwards of 50,000 people, fewer demonstrators are anticipated this year, and officials said they have a better understanding of where they will demonstrate.

“Now, there’s a much smaller number of demonstrators than in years past,” Petrie said. “It’s easy to predict where they’re going to be in relation to the campus.”

Petrie said he expects relatively fewer protesters for a variety of reasons, including a massive pro-choice march – the March for Women’s Lives – scheduled for Sunday.

“This year, there is an enormous influx of people for the women’s rights march on Sunday, which has taken up all the rental buses and all of the low-cost and high-cost housing in the area,” he said. “If you wanted to come here to demonstrate, you would have to stay on somebody’s couch.”

Last Thursday, the University moved all small structures such as garbage cans from within a two-block radius of the march perimeter on 20th Street, Petrie said.

This year’s protest is not expected to cause nearly as many complications for the University as previous demonstrations.

“In past years, we’ve had to relocate some classes, and we’ve had to cancel some events or not schedule events that weekend,” Petrie said. “A lot of things have made that better. Developing confidence in the way GW students do things has helped.”

Metropolitan Police officials said they could not reveal details about their plans for monitoring the protest but ensured that the groups would be able to speak their minds.

“All I can tell you is that our job is to make sure everyone out there is safe and that their rights to freedom of speech are protected,” said MPD Officer Kelly Collins-McMurry, of the department’s Public Information Office. “To that end we will do everything we can.”

MPD came under fire for arresting hundreds of protesters and bystanders during a September 2002 demonstration against the IMF and World Bank. Demonstrators smashed several windows, hurled smoke bombs on city streets and crazy-glued Metro ticket gates during the protest. MPD Chief Charles Ramsey told The Washington Post that he would tell officers to issue warnings to protesters before any arrests are made.

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