Prague, sans protesters
IMF, World Bank, ministerial meetings forge ahead with no interruption
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (CNNfn) - It is Prague without the protesters - Prague with very few people, in fact, other than police, politicians, finance ministers and policy makers from practically everywhere else in the world.|
Well into its fifth full day, the annual gathering of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and various finance ministers and central bank leaders have gone off without a hitch. On a bright, sunny Sunday, roads in and about Prague are clear, traffic is light and all is calm.
Inside the Prague Congress Centre, you would never know it is a Sunday. The gargantuan white fortress atop Prague's southern hillside is abuzz with activity, with delegates, officials, visitors and press folk rushing to seminars, news conferences and luncheons decked out in their finest navies and grays.
The only hint that any trouble lurks in the air is the hundreds of Czech police stationed in and around the complex. Taxis are not allowed to stop anywhere near what would be considered easy walking distance to the entrance; trying to get within 100 feet without some kind of identification will prompt what any Westerner would perceive as a Soviet-style inquisition.
No trouble - so far
"So far we've been very lucky not to have encountered any problems related to demonstrations," said World Bank spokeswoman Merrill Tuck-Primdahl. "From what we know, all World Bank and IMF officials have been able to attend their meetings both inside and outside the center, and all the ministers have been able to meet their engagements.
"Of course, the meetings aren't over just yet."
Indeed, while the docket is relatively full in the days remaining before the official opening of the 2000 meetings Tuesday, the gist of events, including key meetings between the IMF, World Bank and ministers of the G7, G10 and G24 nations are well underway, and in many cases have already concluded.
If there is one conspicuous accomplishment the IMF-World Bank meetings can lay claim to, it's emptying the city of Prague.
As a precautionary measure, schools have closed for the coming week, spurring many families to take a vacation in the countryside. But the precautions appear to be more hype than reality. The expected tens of thousands of international protesters, either by their own volition or by the force of Czech authorities, have yet to appear.
Calm before the calm?
All that are left to wander the calm streets are tourists and a few, happy Czechs.
"This is great," said Michael Baumbruck, a Prague resident. "My morning commute goes incredibly fast, and you can really enjoy the city now."
The sole demonstration of any size took place earlier Sunday, the last day of serious discussions by international finance ministers during the Prague gathering. Nearly 1,500 people joined a Jubliee2000 march from Old Town Square to the large metronome located across the bridge, where once a statue of Stalin stood overlooking the Czech capital.
The marchers, calling for the cancelation of the international debt owed by the world's poorest nations, were a multi-generational group of religious leaders, public service union members and supporters of Jubilee2000 International.
Carrying signs that demanded debt relief and funding for education and health, the demonstrators were calm and orderly, saving their passion for their speeches. Appreciative whistles and applause echoed off the surrounding high-rise hotels, temporarily causing tourists to look up.
But quickly, both tourists and protesters melted back into the scenery of a sun-kissed Prague.
Have train, won't travel
Part of the problem - at least from a protester's point of view - may have been that they could not get to Prague in the first place.
Czech police on Sunday halted a Prague-bound train bound at the country's southern border, refusing to let it pass until four blacklisted activists got off.
"The train doesn't move until the four people get out," police spokeswoman Monika Korabova told Reuters. She added police would not use force to remove the four.
Czech police said 22 of the passengers, specially organized by the Italian activist group Ya Basta, had been denied entry for lacking papers or for being on a list of those unwelcome at the meetings.
Ya Basta has said on its website that it plans to join the siege of the Prague Congress Centre Tuesday in an attempt to lock delegates inside until they abolish their respective institutions. They have also said they will fire on bankers - with their water pistols.
Back at the Congress Center, delegates welcomed the perhaps temporary peace. "Ah, everything will go on as scheduled," said one delegate chuckling. "What protesters?"