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Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Prague prepares for protests
Prague police and a protester
Prague police are prepared to get tough with protesters
By BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes in Prague

The citizens of Prague are getting ready for a week of chaos as demonstrators converge on the Czech capital to protest globalisation at the annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank.

From Monday, all schools will be closed, transport will be severely disrupted, and many shops and services will be closed - while many Prague residents will be leaving the city.

Businesses are concerned about reduced takings, although the police have vowed to keep things moving and crack down heavily on the protesters.

Prague policeman outside McDonalds restaurant
Prague police are guarding potential targets
According to Eliska Cermakova, a student at Charles University, who also works part-time as a tour guide, many people are worried about what might be ahead of them.

"We haven't experienced these kinds of protests before, but we have all seen the pictures of Seattle and Washington. Many people I know are going on holiday, while those of us who have to stay are scared," she told the BBC.

Prague is a European city of culture this year, and prides itself as an international tourist destination.

Many of the tourists converging around the Old Town Hall in the centre of the city seemed blissfully unaware of the possibility of mass protests next week despite the heavy police presence, but shopkeepers were less sanguine.

One shop worker said that he had been told to stay open, but few expected much business next week.

According to local newspaper reports, even many of Prague's fabled nightclubs were not sure whether their employees would turn up for work.

Warnings about protests

The police have already warned that the protests might focus on the tourist areas of Prague as well as the Prague Congress Centre, which is several miles away, and where the IMF/World Bank meetings are being held.

Protesters in Prague
Protests against globalisation have been peaceful so far
There, the police have already established an exclusion zone, evacuating local residents around the building as well as banning all traffic.

They have also commandeered much of Prague's municipal bus fleet to transport the 10,000 delegates to the meetings to and from their hotels.

The protestors, meanwhile, have vowed to blockade those hotels as well as keeping delegates trapped in the Conference centre, which is linked to the rest of the city by a single road bridge.

Mixed attitude

The Prague authorities have a mixed attitude towards the protest.

On one hand, the Czech Republic wanted to host the IMF/World Bank meeting to show that it has made the transition to a market economy and is now ready for membership in the European Union.

Indeed its economy is one of the strongest in Eastern Europe, although it is just coming out of a sharp recession that led to the tripling of the unemployment rate.

It also wants to attract more foreign investment, with companies like Volkswagen and Siemens already located there, and so it wants to ensure the smooth running of the annual meetings, which attract many international investors.

On the other hand, Czech President Vaclav Havel, who came to power after his own Velvet Revolution which overthrew Communism, has some sympathy with those who are concerned about the impact of globalisation.

He is hosting a debate between representatives of the World Bank and IMF and development and environment groups at Prague castle at the weekend.

Although some people welcome the fact the Prague will become the centre of world attention next week, more are casting a wary eye on the proceedings and hoping that life will soon return to normal.

One group of businesses is expected to benefit, however.

Orders for plate glass windows, to replace those that might be broken in the protests, have already soared.

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