Facing protests, Washington builds a Berlin wall

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Facing protests, Washington builds a Berlin wall

Robert Tait In Washington

A TWO-MILE fence costing $2.5 million (£1.7 million) is to be constructed around a 220 acre area of central Washington to defend against anti-globalisaton protesters demonstrating against a world financial summit next month.

The 9ft-high fence is part of a $30 million security operation mounted for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank summits on 29 and 30 September. It will cordon off an area of 27 streets, from the White House to Washington’s Foggy Bottom district, where the IMF, World Bank and the US state department are based.

Civil liberty groups called the measure excessive. It is not clear how people living inside the fenced area will be able to get in and out during the summit.

The drastic proposal marks a watershed in Washington’s long history of dealing with demonstrations.

During Vietnam war protests in the late 1960s, the police and secret service ringed the White House with buses, lending a bunker image to the administration of Richard Nixon, who was president at the time.

Police did not resort to a fence when Washington hosted a meeting of the IMF and World Bank last year, when violent anti-globalisation protests were successfully held in check.

However, this time security sources are predicting a massive influx of around 100,000 demonstrators - more than even the protest organisers forecast - to justify the action. They also point to two days of violent clashes at last month’s G8 summit in Genoa, with an estimated £30 million in property damage, 200 arrests and one death, despite a huge Italian security operation.

"If you’re the person out on the front lines, any steps you take to secure a site, I think, are reasonable," Washington’s police chief, Charles Ramsey, said yesterday. "We’re going to take whatever steps we feel are necessary to ensure the security of our people, the delegates and the protesters."

The summit has already been cut from an original five days to just two to avoid a week of violent clashes that could bring Washington to a standstill.

The Washington police department has recruited 3,000 officers from other forces around the country to augment its own force of 3,600.

Earlier this year, Canadian police constructed a 10ft high fence to guard against demonstrators at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.

Demonstrators at last year's Democratic national convention in Los Angeles were fenced into an area adjacent to the Staples arena, where the convention was being held.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a lawyer representing the demonstrators, is suing the police for violating First Amendment free speech rights by creating the fenced exclusions zones in the city.

She also claims the police have deliberately delayed issuing protest permits to demonstrators.

"People have had permit requests with the metropolitan police department for many weeks and they have absolutely refused to issue those permits, they have refused to issue denials in writing, they are just winding down the clock," she said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), August 31, 2001

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