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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
Suburbans boycott World Bank
The police is in Washington, observing
The police were on guard in Washington in case the protestors turned up
By BBC News Online's David Schepp in Washington, DC.

Takoma Park, Maryland, has long been known for its progressive stance on public-policy issues.

The World Bank's president James Wolfensohn:

"Some people would like us to cancel the debt of the 62 countries, but we do not have the money for that."

"I would really like to do it, but either I shut up shop or the shareholders agree to an increase in capital."

Source: Le Monde
A small, northern suburb of Washington, DC, Takoma Park is a nuclear-free zone, features an award-winning recycling program and allows non-US citizens to vote in local elections and hold local office.

Although still "inside the Beltway", a term used by locals to describe capital-area residents who think the world revolves around Washington, the left-leaning suburb of 20,000 has taken the unusual step of joining a boycott against the World Bank and its bonds.

The World Bank, through member nations, provides loans to needy countries as a way to assist in economic and social development.

Selling bonds, much in the same way governments and business do, is one way the World Bank raises funds to make those loans.

More harm than good

Critics contend that the World Bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), through their loan making and other initiatives do far more harm than good.

Many people regard it as absurd and obscene that countries such as Mozambique and Zambia, some of the poorest countries in the world, would be diverting resources from urgent human needs to spend on servicing debt

Robert Naiman, Centre for Economic Policy Research
Once such critic is Robert Naiman, senior policy analyst at the Centre for Economic Policy and Research in Washington, DC.

Mr Naiman told BBC News Online that poor countries should be using scarce monetary resources on healthcare and education - not paying off loans.

"Many people regard it as absurd and obscene that countries such as Mozambique and Zambia, some of the poorest countries in the world, would be diverting resources from urgent human needs to spend on servicing debt," he says.

Bond boycott

In response to that criticism and more, Takoma Park on Monday joined the California cities of San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley in opposing World Bank policies and agreed to stop buying its bonds.

Takoma Park
In passing its resolution against the purchase of World Bank Bonds, Takoma Park council members said that the bank "actively promotes policies that favour the narrow profit interests of transnational corporations, such as low wages, proliferation of sweatshops, repressive labour policies and weak environmental regulation, at the expense of interests of the majority to improve living standards."

The resolution also said World Bank policies "destroy the environment by pushing countries to expand their exports so they will earn more hard currency to make payments on foreign debts".

These policies and more are what spurred a handful of organizations to hold a press conference on Thursday detailing their strategies for protesting the IMF/World Bank annual spring meeting, which is being held in Washington until the end of Monday.

Njoki Njoroge Njehu, spokeswoman for the 50 Years is Enough Network, said likeminded groups intend to send a clear, non-violent message "within the law" to the IMF and the World Bank, opposing their policies.

But while the demonstrations are expected to be "militant", as Ms Njehu described them, much of the groups' efforts will be reserved for the IMF's autumn meeting.

Neil Watkins, spokesman for the World Bank Bonds Boycott campaign says that it focused the bulk of its energies this spring on the protests in Quebec City against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

Police in the Canadian province clashed with demonstrators during the three-day meeting of Western Hemisphere nations at Summit of the Americas.

Fiery protests resulted in police responding with tear gas and over 400 arrests.

"This weekend we're going to be loud and clear about debt-reduction issues, calling for 100% debt cancellation for poor countries," Mr Watkins said.

"Our numbers will be in the hundreds - not the thousands."

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