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EDITIONS
Monday, 30 April, 2001, 20:34 GMT 21:34 UK
Harmony in Washington?
Anti-IMF protestors in Washington
Hundreds rather than thousands protested
By BBC News Online's David Schepp in Washington, DC.

This past weekend's meeting of world finance officials in Washington provided a sharp contrast in landscapes.

A mere week ago in Quebec City, where still-lifeless trees bent to cold winter-like winds, protests against free trade and anti-poverty policies were hard and furious.

Tempers and teargas exploded as a frigid war of words boiled over into overheated actions.


A stronger focus on crisis prevention should help to reduce the frequency and severity of crises, as well as the need for more and bigger rescue packages

Horst Koehler
Managing Director, IMF.
But eight days later in Washington, where spring was in full bloom, skies were crystal blue and the mood much more tempered, protestors could barely scare up a crowd.

Police far outnumbered demonstrators, who were gathered in a grassy, picturesque park just outside the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) buildings for a mere few hours and then dutifully cleaned up after themselves and left.

It was a stark change from the 3-day war fought on the stone and asphalt streets of Quebec City, which were riddled with graffiti, broken glass and torched toilet paper following the protests.

Protestors said they were saving their energies for the IMF/World Bank fall meeting, also to be held in Washington, owing some of the lack of fervency to the fatigue factor.

Even protestors have to take a weekend off and after a hard fight Quebec, no doubt many of them were still recovering.

Meanwhile, inside...

The lack of steamy protests was not unexpected. Organisers told the press on Thursday to expect "hundreds not thousands" of demonstrators.

If protestors sent vastly different messages - if only in tone not substance - policy makers and finance ministers inside the halls of the IMF were for the most part harmonious in their assessments of the world economy.

US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill
O'Neill: No more comments on rumours
The lack of conflict among US and eurozone monetary officials came as a complete surprise to some.

Policy wonks had expected the two groups to get into a hard scrabble over policy, especially interest rates, which the European Central Bank (ECB) has stubbornly refused to lower.

But there was no evidence of the verbal sparring seen in recent weeks. Even blunt-speaking US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill sounded a conciliatory note about the meeting of Group of Seven (G7) officials on Saturday.

He told reporters that henceforth "none of us would respond to second-hand reports of what the other one had said without checking with them directly to find out what in fact had been said... ".

Monetary officials were nearly uniform in their assessment of the downturn in the worldwide economic growth. After delivering a downbeat message in Palermo, Italy, in February, officials picked up their chins a bit.

While acknowledging "downside risks still predominate", officials said they generally believed an economic recovery might emerge by late year.

And if there was some confusion by reporters about the consensus among G7 ministers over the worldwide economic slowdown, chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee, Gordon Brown, chanced an explanation:

"I see no difference between what we said yesterday as the G7 and what I am saying today," he said, adding that he and Mr O'Neill were in agreement.

More agreement

But the economy was far from the only issue on the minds of monetary officials.

A year ago at these meetings, IMF and World Bank officials agreed to do more in combating HIV/AIDS. So far, the organisations have spent $500m on such programmes and officials also announced new initiatives, to be more fully revealed in June, aimed at treating HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

They backed loan plans for the crisis-ridden economies of Turkey and Argentina and talked about more "transparency" over the roles of the IMF and World Bank and their respective policies.

Gordon Brown
Brown sees no "difference" between the IMF and G7
Officials also noted time and time again that they now understood the need to tailor aid packages to individual countries. African finance ministers chimed in, saying they were now dealing "with a new IMF and a new World Bank."

The IMF and World Bank's efforts were also bolstered by laudatory comments by the Bush administration, which praised the groups' efforts in adopting a proactive approach to crises management.

The IMF was widely criticised for its inability to react quickly to Asia's past woes. Mr Koehler said the reforms would make the approval multi-billion dollar bailout packages, such as those during the Asian, less likely in the future.

"A stronger focus on crisis prevention should help to reduce the frequency and severity of crises, as well as the need for more and bigger rescue packages," said Horst Koehler, managing director of the IMF.

Indeed, finance officials nearly seemed to be speaking to the very few detractors outside the halls of the IMF in announcing that the funding institutions had learned their lessons and were moving forcefully ahead to design and develop more effective aid programmes.

That, in itself, may have been enough reason for protestors to take the weekend off.

See also:

01 May 01 | Business
27 Apr 01 | Business
23 Jan 01 | Business
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14 Mar 01 | Business
27 Apr 01 | Business
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