Czech Republic: Protesters March on IMF Meeting

Some 5,000 demonstrators marched towards Prague's Congress Centre on Tuesday in a bid to besiege the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings.

Police said the activists' ranks had risen from low levels on Monday but there were far fewer than the 20,000 organisers had vowed to bring in with the aim of shutting down the meetings at a conference centre south of Prague's downtown area.

The activists had reached the towering Nuselsky bridge spanning the valley which separates the Congress Centre venue from downtown but were being prevented from crossing it.

The city's main thoroughfare leading up to the bridge was blocked by police to regular traffic.

The protesters, mostly foreign youths waved banners demanded cancellation of debt to poor countries as well as a shutdown of the IMF as they marched from central Prague's Namesti Miru (Peace Square) to attempt to surround the glass-plated conference building.

Two activists smashed a window of a McDonalds restaurant in the city centre's main square, but the other marchers remained peaceful.

Some were padded with cardboard and rubber foam and wore helmets. Others were dressed in white overalls and carried water pistols.

The demonstrators shouted slogans such as "Drop the Debt", "IMF, Make Them Pay, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?" as they split into several directions.

But demonstrators were optimistic about their aims. "We have done this many times before in Italy," said one.

Police made a perimeter around the Congress Centre with armoured personnel carriers and water cannon trucks and parked dozens of police vehicles on the bridge.

The rest of Prague was unusually quiet, and policemen -- 11,000 are ready to defend the congress centre -- stood every twenty metres on main streets, where boarded up shops presented an eerie morning scene.

Protesters intend to block delegates from leaving the building until they decide to abolish the two institutions, which they say do more harm than good in their lending practices to the world's poorest nations.

"We don't want a violent protest. But I think there's a chance of violence because of the way the media have portrayed it and the way the police have prepared for the event," said Martin Empson from east London, an organiser for the Socialist Worker movement.

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