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D.C. Preparing for a Rough Weekend

April 18, 2002
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D.C. Preparing for a Rough Weekend

District Expects Traffic Problems, Street Closings from Array of Protests

by Sylvia Moreno,

District workers began clearing the streets of mailboxes and garbage cans yesterday in preparation for a weekend of political protests, and police suggested that residents avoid downtown Washington today and use Metro the next few days.

In last-minute negotiations, D.C. police amended permits yesterday for the Mobilization for Global Justice, granting it parade routes tomorrow and Sunday that allow protesters to stop in front of several corporate offices where they plan to perform skits.

Among the first events of the weekend and the reason police suggested commuters avoid driving today is a Critical Mass bicycle ride scheduled for 5 p.m. Bikers plan to assemble at Upper Senate Park for a vigil and rally to urge the closing of the successor to the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. Activists say the Army school -- closed in 2000 and replaced in 2001 with a new facility and a new curriculum -- is a training ground for Latin American dictators and assassins. Organizers, who are not divulging their route, said they expect as many as 100 cyclists on downtown streets.

Four marches, which police say will cause street closures, are planned tomorrow. Other events -- marches, teach-ins, rallies and concerts -- throughout the weekend will support Palestinians, protest the Bush administration's war on terrorism, denounce racism and oppose the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among other causes.

"There are no planned marches [today], but that doesn't mean something won't happen," said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman. "So if you don't have to drive into that area of the IMF and World Bank and you can use Metro, do so. Then we're telling people that on Saturday and Sunday, we will have streets closed off."

The list of street closings should be released today, Gentile said.

The D.C. Department of Public Works -- along with federal agencies, police and private businesses -- began removing newspaper boxes, mailboxes, litter cans, ash urns, benches, bike racks and outdoor tables and chairs yesterday afternoon. That is what Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Myers said officials call sanitizing the protest area, which extends from Foggy Bottom and George Washington University southeast to the U.S. Capitol.

"We do this at the behest of the Metropolitan Police Department or the Secret Service," Myers said. "It simply clears the landscape of anything that could be used in a dangerous fashion."

Public Works inspectors also visited construction sites in protest areas this week "to advise those companies to secure their areas and to secure any loose debris," Myers said.

Police initially denied the march routes requested by the Mobilization for Global Justice. Those routes would pass the offices of Coca-Cola Co., Citibank and Monsanto Co. tomorrow and Occidental International Corp. on Sunday. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said that because of the concurrent protests, there weren't enough officers to accompany the group on its requested march routes.

But police and organizers met again yesterday, and the permits were amended, Gentile said.

A Mobilization organizer, Adam Eidinger, said: "We've proven now . . . that this organization is not organizing a violent demonstration. We're just having a march and a rally."

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