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Headquarters of IMF/World Bank protesters shut down

By JORGE E. BANALES and MARC BORBELY

WASHINGTON, April 15 -- The Washington Metropolitan Police Department descended Saturday morning on the headquarters of the IMF/World Bank protesters and, citing fire safety violations, shut the building down.

"There were some fire code violations, and the convergence center was shut down," Rai Howell, spokeswoman for the police department, told United Press International.

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Propane tanks, which had apparently been used for cooking, violated Washington's fire code, she said.

Protest organizers decried the shutdown.

"It's an attempt to keep the protesters from voicing their concerns," said Laura Jones, a protest organizer. She said the raid showed that police have "an excessive interest in preventing us from assembling."

The protest headquarters have been moved to a place called the Wilson Center, she said.

About 20 policemen closed off the street where the building is located, and hundreds of protesters of all ages, races and dress codes stood calmly on the sidewalk, awaiting instructions from head activists.

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"They came in on some kind of bogus charge," said Nadine Block, a head activist also involved in puppet-making. "They are not interested in having us show resistance to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and that's what we're focusing on."

"We told ourselves to get out of there," said 28-year-old Rainforest Action Network activist Jeniffer Krill. "Nobody really wanted to get arrested this morning, the day before the mobilization shuts down the World Bank and the IMF." Although police appeared to have confiscated most of the puppets the demonstrators had made, she said, "We're still going to have a great demonstration."

Benjamin Zawacki, 25, a legal observer of the National Lawyers Guild, said two people were arrested. Police were unable to confirm any arrests.

In response to reports that police found a Molotov cocktail in the building, Chloe Frommer, media liaison for the mobilization, said if anything was found, it was most likely a recycled bottle or an improvised gas mask.

Erick Brownstein, another Rainforest Action Network activist, said he first heard of the bust when he was on his way back from "visiting" the home of World Bank President James Wolfensohn. "We received a phone call as we were leaving that the convergence center was being raided," he said. Brownstein went to Wolfensohn's home at 6:00 a.m. with a group of 25 people from 11 countries to hand deliver a letter he hoped would be a literal "wake-up call."

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"We're going to continue to do what we've been doing, with probably even more inspiration," he said. "We're going to keep training and holding workshops and making puppets."

"Obviously (it is) just another opportunity for them to try to hamper our efforts, but unfortunately (it is) going to do the opposite."

Some demonstrators spoke on condition their last names not be used. Amanda, 23, said she found the Convergence shut down as she was making her way to it this morning. "There was a line of police blocking the way to the Convergence," she said.

"We had no warning," said a 21-year-old protester, who asked to be called Lotus. "Whoever was as at the gate let them in without a warrant."

She said that two fire marshals went to the kitchen and then were followed by police. "Some of them did not have their badges displayed, and many would not give us their names or badge numbers." Lotus said police did not allow activists to take their personal items with them as they left the building.

"I've been through this fire marshal number before," said George Elfie Ballis, a veteran of more than 30 years of filming activism who said he was 14, going on 150 years-old. "They have the agenda already set up. The fire marshal went around saying, 'Oh look at this and look at that,' all obviously true -- it's an old decrepit building!"

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He said that a 50- to 60-member "police phalanx" came in and started to point out propane tanks and exits that were not properly marked.

Molly McCarthy, 21, a Mobilization for Global Justice media contact and Seattle veteran, said the morning at the convergence center was like any other morning at an office, when police suddenly entered.

"It's only within our own interest for us to have a very safe space," she said. "We have very clear non-violence guidelines that we don't have anything dangerous inside. Anything that they find inside, it's probably planted. Knowing myself, and knowing the people in there, there is nothing dangerous."

McCarthy said the place is "generally populated by very peaceful people."

"This is not going to deter us in any way," she said. "I think if anything it's made people be even stronger in their resolve to be out in the streets tomorrow."

Oscar Olivera, a 45-year-old machinist and the executive secretary of the Cochabamba Federation of Factory Workers, said, "We've have come to tell the world that it is possible to perforate the economic model and to force governments to disobey the mandates of the World Bank." Olivera came to Washington from Bolivia to request a meeting with Wolfensohn.

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He said that there were similarities between the police's response to activism in the United States and what he has seen in Bolivia.

Olivera was invited by the Mobilization of Global Justice. "I've come to share that the struggle that was waged in Bolivia against transnational (corporations) is an example that can be useful for the rest of the world," he said.

The activists are in Washington to protest against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, organizations they say have damaged the environment and caused social and economic havoc in developing countries through their financial policies.

The Mobilization for Global Justice, the umbrella organization in charge of planning and carrying out demonstrations in the nation's capital during the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, had taken up temporary residence in a huge building adjacent to a school.

There, in a space they called "the convergence," they had set up an organization that included an all-vegetarian kitchen and a media center.

Over the past week, hundreds of people have passed through the center to make huge puppets, sell t-shirts, flyers and posters, cook and participate in various workshops or just hang out.

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