Protesters Celebrate Victory In Prague

PRAGUE, Czech Republic As the Czech capital recovered from raging street riots that disrupted the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank summit, hundreds of protesters paraded through the streets Thursday and Friday in a peaceful celebration of their "win" over the international lending institutions.

They also called for the release of "political prisoners" being held in Czech jails and accused police of abusing many of the hundreds of protesters detained. Police denied the accusation.

An American woman, though, was hospitalized with injuries she suffered when trying to escape from a police station while she was being interrogated, The Associated Press reported, citing a police spokesman. The woman jumped out of a second-floor window as police were telling her she was facing charges of attacking a public official, the spokesman said.

Police said Thursday that 18 foreigners and two Czechs have been charged for their role in the violent protests, in which 850 demonstrators, including 330 foreigners, were detained. It was unclear how many were still being held.

Members of Initiative Against Economic Globalization, or INPEG, a Czech umbrella organization of protest groups, said Friday at a news conference that many of the protesters who were detained described being beaten in jail or deprived of food and water. But INPEG members failed to follow through on promises to make some of the detained protesters available to talk to reporters. Police denied that protesters were mistreated in custody.

INPEG also said that 350 to 400 protesters were injured in the clashes with the 11,000-member police force. Police have said that 51 officers and 18 protesters were hurt.

The bulk of the violence occurred on Tuesdays "Global Day of Action," when about 10,000 protesters took to the streets in a bid to disrupt the start of meetings at the Prague Congress Center.

In a prolonged battle, police fired tear gas and water cannon at the protesters, who hurled cobblestones and Molotov cocktails.

Some of the protesters made it within 100 meters of the center and, before being pushed back, succeeded in blocking all of its exits. Delegates were eventually escorted to a nearby subway station and evacuated in special metro cars.

In the end, the delegates held closing ceremonies a day early and most were out of the city by Wednesday night leading protesters to claim victory.

"They were morally broken because they had to leave by metro probably for the first time in their lives," said Boris Kagarlitsky, a Moscow political analyst.

A critic of IMF lending to Russia, he had come to Prague to voice his dissatisfaction with the work of the lending institutions.

As Prague recovered from the violence, city workers and merchants continued to pick up the pieces Friday.

In the regions closest to the Congress Center, where the delegates of the 182 member states met, patches of cobblestone were missing from sidewalks, graffiti spoiled buildings, billboards and metal fences were absent after having been uprooted or torn down to buttress protesters front-line fortifications, and patches of scorched earth remained where bonfires and occasionally cars burned Tuesday.

Losses to the city have been estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, as opposed to expected economic benefits in the region of $200 million to $400 million.

"I dont think there was any victory, I think it was tragic," said World Bank President James Wolfensohn at the lending institutions final news conference Thursday. "The legitimate voice of concern and people who came for dialogue were significantly damaged by the people on the streets."

Lost among the chaos were the issues of the meetings, dubbed to be the "most successful ever" by the delegates, but which largely produced little.

Much of the discussion of the meetings centered on reducing world poverty, debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries and the effect that high oil prices was having on the world economy and smaller countries trying to develop their economies.

In reports released at the start of the closed-door sessions, which began Sept. 19, the IMF and World Bank addressed Russia and other fiscally troubled East European countries by saying: "Arguably, in these difficult cases, a different approach might have worked better."

Russia has received no aid from the IMF thus far in 2000, but in general the IMF and World Bank trumpeted the countrys good intentions of reforming the legal and financial systems and addressing corruption.

Others expressed serious doubt about the role of the international lending institutions.

"The World Bank and the IMF have put a lot of money into Russia and we dont know where it has gone and that is rather troubling," said Alexander Sutyagin of the St. Petersburg branch of the environmental group Greenpeace.

But Sutyagin said he was happy that he was able to put some of his concerns on the table during the meetings.

"It is much easier to create some sort of dialogue with the World Bank and IMF than it is with representatives of the Russian government," he said.

INPEG and others distanced themselves from the violent fringes of the protest movement, but said that overall, considering that protests were held in 40 cities worldwide, the protest was successful. "The outcome in Seattle and Prague will be a very good argument for violence, which is not a good thing," said Kagarlitsky.