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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 19:03 GMT 20:03 UK
Anti-war messages dominate protest
Protester facing a line of mounted police
Demonstrators called for a day of civil disobedience

The smell of vinegar was in the air on the streets of Washington, as the Black Bloc - several hundred black-clad anarchist protesters - did their best to disrupt the US capital.

They doused bandannas in the vinegar to combat the effects of tear gas. There was not much gas but plenty of arrests during the campaign of civil disobedience.

The ranks of young anti-capitalist protesters were swelled by older peace demonstrators, who rallied in their youth over Vietnam and are now concerned about war in Iraq.

But the protest seemed to irritate some Washington residents, who found the tactic of wholesale disruption of the city - instead of focusing on the World Bank and IMF - hurt the protesters' cause.

Protest veteran

Sue Bastian proudly says she has seen it all in her more than 30 years of protest against "the system".
Sue Bastian carries anti-war placards
Sue Bastian: On the barricades for 30 years. First Vietnam, now Iraq.

She has been shot at, gassed and roughed up since the 1960s, when she opposed the war in Vietnam.

She travelled some 4,000 miles from Oregon to protest against the IMF and World Bank, the war on terrorism and a possible war on Iraq.

Facing a line of police, she carried signs that said "No Blood for Oil" and "No War in Iraq".

But now she was protesting against the possibility of another war, in Iraq.

When asked about possible military action against Saddam Hussein, she said: "I think it's insane. The people of Iraq have suffered more than enough."

Cheering for peace

A group of anarchist "cheerleaders" put their anti-war message this way in a call and response with the crowd:
Anarchist cheerleaders
Cheering for anarchy: Protesters lead sports-style cheers against war

Who let the bombs drop?
Bush, Bush, Bush
Who do we gotta stop?
Bush, Bush, Bush
Just like his daddy taught,
Bush, Bush, Bush.

Standing amongst the black-clad youth with multiple piercings was a man in a suit and tie, Joe Mayer.

Mr Mayer is a retired Lieutenant Colonel, who served 20 years in the US Army. He came to the protests because he was "opposed to war in Iraq".

He is not convinced by arguments from President Bush or Prime Minister Blair that Iraq poses a threat, and he is not comfortable with the US launching a pre-emptive strike.

"As Senator Byrd said the other day: 'America fights wars. It doesn't start them'," he said.

Talk of military action in Iraq is meant to "distract us from the failure of the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror and to win the election" in November, he said.

Lost in the fray

But protesters might be losing the war for the hearts and minds of the larger public.

Ashleigh Keister works two blocks from the White House, and her manager told her that the protests could not be used as an excuse to take the day off or to be late.
Protestors and police clash
Tussles between police and protesters kept Ashleigh Keister from work

"That's my building," she said, pointing to an office block surrounded by a line of a mounted police and another line of police in riot gear.

Windows at a Citibank branch office on the ground floor had been broken and a melee broke out between police and protesters.

She stood and waited with her friend Melinda Mills, hoping that she would be able to get to work on time, as protesters were handcuffed and taken away in buses.

They knew that the protesters were demonstrating against the World Bank and IMF, but they were not clear why.

"There are barely any signs saying what they are talking about," Ms Mills said.

Ms Mills supports the rights of the protesters to demonstrate, but thinks disrupting the city as a whole is counter-productive.

Tyres were set alight on a few streets in the city.

Someone put a gummy, adhesive substance on the gate locks of subway stations, and protesters threatened to snarl traffic on the Beltway, the multi-lane highway that rings Washington.

"I think they hurt their cause more than helping it when they protest like this," Ms Mills said.

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27 Sep 02 | Americas
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