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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 20:01 GMT 21:01 UK
World Bank, IMF gear up for Prague
A view of Prague city centre
The World Bank and IMF are expecting protests in Prague
By the BBC's Andrew Walker in Prague

The IMF and the World Bank are preparing themselves for large scale protests. They are beginning to get used to it.

In April their meetings in Washington were disrupted by thousands of demonstrators blockading the area around the two organisations' headquarters.

The precedent for this kind of action was set at the World Trade Organisation's meeting in Seattle last year, when it tried unsuccessfully to launch a new round of free trade talks.

In Prague, the IMF and the Bank will be the focus for a range of grievances. Some are aimed at the institutions themselves, others more generally at international capitalism and globalisation, the increasing integration of the world economy.

In the dock

So, a number of defendants - particular organisations and less tangible processes - are in the dock. The charges against them are pretty much the same - most important that they are bad for the poor and for developing countries.

One of the main protesters' websites says that capitalism is based on the exploitation of people, societies and the environment for the profit of the few. Capitalism is the prime cause of our social and ecological troubles.

The IMF and the World Bank are seen by the protesters as important agents of capitalism and big business, forcing their message on developing countries. In the process, the Bank and the IMF are accused of making poverty and the environment worse.

Needless to say the institutions themselves get pretty exasperated by these arguments.

Back in April when the protesters were on the streets just a few blocks away, the World Bank's president James Wolfensohn said that it is a bit demoralising to hear that there is a mobilisation for social justice when he thought that is what the Bank is doing every day.

Blaming the Bank

The Director General of the World Trade Organisation Mike Moore was in Washington at the time observing the proceedings. After his experience in Seattle, he knew just how just how Jim Wolfensohn must have felt and leapt to his defence.

Mr Moore said that blaming the World Bank for poverty was like blaming the Red Cross for the Second World War.

Both the IMF and the World Bank are entirely unapologetic about the principle of globalisation. They say it creates opportunities for poor people and poor nations.

In its assessment of the world economy in April, the IMF argued that globalisation is not the problem, but an indispensable part of the solution.

Cautious welcome

But they do accept that more should be done to ensure that the developing world can take advantage of the opportunities that globalisation creates.

The World Bank's latest World Development Report, an annual publication, takes up the theme with a catalogue of things that need to be done to reduce poverty.

The Bank has been reinventing its approach to the problem for most of the last decade, and some of its recent ideas have received a cautious welcome from development lobby groups.

But there will be many people on the streets of Prague who regard the Bank and the IMF as beyond redemption.

Mr Wolfensohn will have to go through the mill all over again. For the IMF's new Managing Director, Horst Kohler it will be a new experience - a real baptism of fire.

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