PRAGUE, Czech Republic (CNNfn) - As thousands of anti-globalization demonstrators clashed with police at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings Tuesday, it was business as usual for delegates inside attending the bank and fund's opening ceremonies.|
Determined not to be swayed by the protests, finance officials from the IMF and World Bank's member countries mulled in and around the vast conference center -- nonchalant if not oblivious to the action outside, except for what they could see through the huge windows lining the southwestern side of the building.
CNNfn's Charles Hodson experiences tense moments as protesters move in more closely.
Meanwhile, governors of 182 countries stood and presented their views of a new world where globalization and cooperation would help benefit all nations, particularly the poorer ones.
"We cannot turn globalization back," said James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. "Our challenge is to make globalization an instrument of opportunity and inclusion -- not fear and insecurity. With all the forces making the world smaller, it is time to change our way of thinking, time to realize we live together in one world, not two -- this poverty is in our community wherever we live. It is our responsibility."
IMF Managing Director Horst Koehler and other senior officials provided similar visions -- a world free of debt, poverty, hunger and disease, while full of economic partnership. "I am aware of the critical debate about globalization, and many questions have to be of concern to all of us," Koehler said. "But I also want to be clear: if the IMF did not exist already, this would be the time to invent it."
Click here for full coverage on the protests from CNN.
That was not the message being received on the outside.
"Open up the borders, smash the IMF," protesters chanted within 100 feet of the Congress Center as hundreds of police watched nervously. Several cameramen were shoved back by police for getting too close to the demonstrators. "Our world is not for sale," one protester's plaque read.
'Smash the IMF'
Demonstrators initially assembled in Namesti Miru, or "Peace Square," in central Prague, planning to march to the main bridge linking the Prague Congress Center with downtown and block it off. As the ceremonies got underway, the protests intensified, with two people suffering head injuries in initial clashes with police. En route to the bridge, demonstrators threw rocks at a McDonald's outlet, cracking a glass door.
As the day progressed, so did the demonstrations. Police used water guns and tear gas several times to push protesters back from the center, which sits on a hill overlooking the picturesque city. At least 15 people were injured, including 12 policemen, after demonstrators tossed Molotov cocktails from the roof of a nearby home, burning two protesters and several policemen. The burns were not considered serious, according to a Czech police spokesman. The protesters also threw cobblestones torn from Prague's ancient streets.
To prevent the demonstrators from crossing the bridge, police set up roadblocks using armored cars. They also closed the subway station nearest the center, providing shuttle bus service for delegates and reporters from the next nearest station. Several helicopters circled overhead, transmitting the images to a local Czech news station that carried them live.
The demonstrators were protesting what they call an unscrupulous push for globalization fostered by the organizations. Early in the day it appeared there would not be enough of them to accomplish that objective, with most reports pegging the number of protesters significantly below what police and officials initially predicted.
But by mid-afternoon, more demonstrators had assembled around the southern and western perimeters of the center. As hundreds of blue-suited delegates converged outside near the walls of the complex clamoring for a view, more popping noises and white smoke could be seen billowing out from the valley below. Police later confirmed that the sounds and smoke were tear gas and stun grenades used to push back protesters.
Aside from outside crises that included the high price of oil and the low value of the euro, the protests were the first incident to mar the otherwise flawless meetings, which have focused primarily on redefining the role of the IMF and World Bank in the new global economy.
Generally, finance ministers and officials have debated at length how the world's richer nations can help countries benefit from a smaller, more connected world by using private enterprise and market-oriented methods that have helped foster the strongest growth ever among Western countries.
The World Bank's Wolfensohn made a concerted effort to meet with representatives of the banks' many critics who have long scorned the bank and fund for being what they say are bureaucratic agencies that force their own brand of economics on countries that don't need it or want it.
But the bank chief pushed back this year, challenging the many non-governmental organizations, finance ministers, central bank leaders and even famed U2 rock star Bono to work with the bank and the fund to figure out how to take control of globalization and make it work.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers -- one of the principal proponents of a collective fight against high oil prices at this week's meetings, told delegates that the "sharp rise in the price of oil is an important concern for consumers and businesses around the world, and has the potential to hit developing countries particularly hard."
"Stability in oil markets, around reasonable long-term prices, is strongly in the mutual interest of both oil producing countries and oil consuming countries," Summer said in his prepared remarks to IMF-World Bank plenary.
But the Treasury Secretary added that rising growth rates in many parts of the world offered "the prospect that the imbalance in demand that has prevailed in recent years will recede." That also would "greatly enhance" the outlook for developing economies next year, he said.
European Union finance ministers will discuss the possibility of releasing more of their emergency reserves when they meet in Brussels Friday. In addition, ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting nations are scheduled to meet in Caracas, Venezuela, this weekend to discuss current production quotas, though no increase in production is expected.
Last week, President Clinton announced plans to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from the U.S. strategic oil reserve in an effort to stabilize prices.
Closing the wealth gap between the world's poorer nations and more developed countries was also one of the primary topics of discussion between ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, the G10, the G24 and both the IMF and World Bank.
Both the bank and the fund have lobbied to get 20 of the world's most impoverished nations on the hit list for immediate debt relief through the World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.
"Jim Wolfensohn and I are determined to bring the benefits of debt relief under the HIPC initiative to as many countries as possible as rapidly as possible," Koehler said. However, he cautioned that the true test of HIPC would be how effectively it contributes toward poverty reduction, and how well private investment takes to those countries once they have cleaned up their books.
"I trust that the leaders of the poor countries themselves fully recognize the importance of sound policies and good governance," Koehler said. "A real breakthrough in poverty will be possible only if private saving and investment take firm roots in these countries and if a much larger part of the savings generated in the world becomes available to them."
All told, their messages fell on deaf ears.
"What is happening outside is that people are scared -- they are afraid they may lose their jobs," Wolfensohn told CNN Monday. "These are legitimate fears, but the trend toward globalization is irreversible."