Associated Press / Will Lester, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A dwindling band of protesters, facing a steady rain and police reinforcements, failed to shut down international finance meetings today but played havoc with the workaday life of downtown Washington. There were sporadic clashes with riot-equipped police and scores of arrests.
Protesters couldn't thwart the meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, in large part because authorities spirited most conference delegates to the meeting site before daybreak.
But traffic was disrupted as demonstrators filled several downtown street intersections. And while there was no massive traffic jam, the demonstrations did curtail some operations of the federal government. Federal employees whose offices were in the vicinity followed the advice of their bosses and stayed home.
But the morning was troublesome for those who came into the city; District of Columbia police, who brought in some National Guard troops to assist in handling the crowds of protesters, fired pepper spray to disperse demonstrators who were trying to storm barricades.
Some protesters donned gas masks and one policeman mistakenly threw a tear gas canister, thinking it was a smoke device, officials said.
"There was a convoy of delegates that got trapped by the crowds and the officers were trying to get them out," said Police Chief Charles Ramsey.
Police said at least 90 people were arrested and loaded onto buses, but the charges against them weren't immediately known. Several hundred were arrested Saturday and a few dozen on Sunday.
Others attempted to throw themselves at police vehicles today, and their mood remained defiant. "We sent a message that business as usual will not happen at these neocolonial, neoliberal institutions any more," said Dorothee Benz, 35, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Still, the protests were much smaller than those over the weekend intended to disrupt the World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings.
At midmorning, an organizer with a megaphone asked a gathering at the Ellipse on the National Mall to separate into two groups -- one willing to be arrested, one not -- and a determined crowd set out for a march through city streets that initially remained peaceful. Tourists were seen snapping pictures and filming the scene with videocameras.
The marchers, numbering perhaps 1,000, halted at an intersection near the IMF, and police sprayed some with pepper spray as the demonstrators pressed closer to the barricades. One huge banner was unfurled at a nearby construction site: "World bank destroys tropical rain forest."
Mayor Anthony Williams said officials anticipated "some ratcheting up" of the confrontations with protesters as the day wore on.
"Our intent is to keep this under control, to keep it peaceful and to get through this," Williams said.
In an effort to keep problems to a minimum, the federal government closed its agencies in the potential protest zone, an 11-by-8-block swath east and west of the White House. Both the federal and local governments encouraged all but essential workers to stay home on leave.
Most of the federal work force was on the job today, however. Agencies closed included the departments of State, Interior, Treasury and Commerce; the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.
"We don't have any way of finding out how many people came in," said Joseph Cowart, an OPM spokesman. "This is a very rare and very unusual occurrence."
At least 70 National Guard personnel in camouflage gear took up positions as reinforcements early today near the World Bank and International Monetary Fund buildings in the center of town.
On Sunday, many more demonstrators paraded through the capital in a show of celebration and anger, punctuated by occasional confrontations.
Festive street theater with giant puppets coexisted with confrontations between police trying to keep the streets open and the finance meetings safe and protesters agitating about the plight of the poor and "decadence" of the rich.
At one point, police in riot gear and on motorcycles charged into a crowd that had surged toward the police line. Police used pepper spray and what they said were smoke bombs to drive back the protesters, who were convinced they'd been tear-gassed.
But unlike the protests that overwhelmed police and smashed windows in rainy Seattle to disrupt and block trade meetings late last year, the weekend demonstrations were largely nonviolent on a hot, sunny Sunday.
"I've seen a whole lot less property damage than after a Bulls game in Chicago," said Han Shan, a protest organizer from the San Francisco-based group Ruckus.
On Sunday, the finance ministers of France, Brazil, Portugal and Thailand were thwarted by the crowds and sat at the Watergate Hotel six hours after the official meetings started, wondering what to do. They eventually made it to the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund.
Protesters accused the World Bank and IMF of burdening poor countries with crushing debt payments, unsafe food, environmental destruction and sweatshops.
Responded Michael Moore, director general of the World Trade Organization: "Blaming the World Bank for poverty is a bit like blaming the Red Cross for starting World Wars I and II."
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Also contributing to this story were Cal Woodward, Alice Ann Love and Larry Margasak.: