Riots threaten Prague autumn

Scotland Yard and FBI called in as fears grow of huge anti-capitalist protests at IMF summit in Czech capital

This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday August 24 2000 . It was last updated at 16:21 on September 19 2000.

Scotland Yard has sent a team of officers to Prague ahead of next month’s IMF and World Bank annual summit amid fears of violent anti-capitalist demonstrations by up to 50,000 protesters, including many of those involved in the May Day riots in London.

Special Branch has been liaising with its counterpart in the Czech Republic and four officers from Scotland Yard’s public order unit, led by Chief Supt Steve French, flew to the capital last week for two days of talks with police chiefs.

Files and photographs of demonstrators who incited the trouble in London have been offered to the Czech authorities, as well as intelligence on potential troublemakers.

Although the Czechs have insisted that they are confident of coordinating the security operation and are sensitive about asking for outside help, the republic has turned to Britain and the United States for advice because of fears the Prague demonstrations could be the worst so far.

Earlier this year 24 senior Czech officers were sent to the FBI’s headquarters in Washington for training. Three months ago the agency’s director, Louis Freeh, went to Prague to discuss contingency plans if violence flares. The Czechs have also been working with Interpol in the hope of identifying protesters from Germany, Poland and Scandinavia.

Concern has been mounting because of the way anti-globalisation campaigners have disrupted major conferences in recent years.

There were riots at last November’s World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle, and at an IMF/World Bank meeting in Washington last April.

Even though the Metropolitan police cancelled all leave for the May Day protests and swamped the capital with thousands of officers and undercover “spotters”, demonstrators managed to dig up the grassy area of Parliament Square, daub paint and graffiti on monuments, including the Cenotaph and a statue of Sir Winston Churchill. More than 100 people were charged.

The delegation from Scotland Yard, which included a specialist in media management, flew to Prague last week.

“We went over to help them, though officially Prague did not ask for our assistance. We wanted to share our experiences and our information,” said a Scotland Yard source.

The British embassy in Prague yesterday also confirmed that there had been “contact” between senior detectives in both countries.

The Foreign Office is advising Britons against holiday and non-essential travel to Prague between September 23 and September 28. The US state department has also advised Americans not to visit the city at the end of September.

Although the Czech interior ministry has told Prague’s residents to “relax and put your faith in the authorities”, the build-up to the summit has convinced many that violence in inevitable.

Eleven thousand police have been assigned to the event and 5,000 soldiers will be on standby.

The health ministry has warned Prague’s four main hospitals to prepare for the worst. They are taking on extra staff and will be stocked with drugs to combat biological and chemical attacks.

Keeping wounded delegates and protesters apart is another practical concern.

“If you have the delegates in one room and the protesters in another, they could fight in the corridor,” warned a doctor at the Kralovske Vinohrady Teaching Hospital, which has set aside three luxury bedrooms for high profile financiers.

Fast food restaurants have already ordered replacement panes of glass, knowing they are likely to be targeted.

Managers of the supermarket chain, Tesco, which has a large branch in the centre of Prague, say they are considering closing during the summit.

Schools and theatres in the centre of the capital have been ordered to close and Prague residents have been advised it may be wise to leave the capital or stock up on medicines and food and stay at home.

Tabloid newspapers have added to the growing alarm by telling people to barricade their doors and windows against the “barbarian protesters.”

Around 800 safety vests are to be handed out to journalists covering the summit, which is due to be attended by 23,000 delegates and politicians.

Scores of British protesters have already moved to Prague and hundreds more are expected to arrive in the next fortnight.

In the recent demonstrations in Britain and the US, police were accused of underestimating the resourcefulness and determination of the demonstrators and of showing little understanding of the loose-knit groupings suspected of masterminding the violence.

Most police attention has focused on a coalition of Czech environmental, human rights and anarchist groups, called Inpeg, Initiative Against Economic Globalisation, which plans a counter summit at the same time as the financial meeting. But Inpeg has described the police’s plans as “hysterical” and insist it is preparing “non-violent activist training.”

With growing trepidation, the police have also been monitoring the numerous websites that have sprung up in recent weeks urging protesters to head for Prague. One of the websites, called DestroyIMF, urges participation in S26 – the demonstrators’ nickname for the event.

“We’re going to Prague to make the IMF summit in September 2000 into Seattle II. The IMF summit will be protected by a Czech police operation run by the FBI. The challenge to the workers’ movement is to shutdown that summit with the biggest demo Europe has ever seen.”

It adds: “We don’t just want to disrupt their summits – we want to scrap the profit system that allows institutions like the World Bank, the IMF and WTO to rule the world and the former Stalinist countries. We want to end debt, poverty and capitalist exploitation. This site is a protest portal.” Protesters have been advised of the Czech for useful phrases such as “You fascist pig” and “Where is the nearest McDonalds?”

Police are also worried that protesters will target a new nuclear power plant in Bohemia which is due to be activated around the time of the IMF conference.

The Czech president, Vaclev Havel, has tried to downplay concern, criticising the coverage given to security arrangements. He said: “It is as if we were getting ready for a civil war.”

A world of protest against the global economy

June 18 1999

Demonstrations were held in 27 cities worldwide, from the Czech Republic to Nigeria, in what was dubbed the “global carnival against capital”.

In the City of London, the 3,000-strong peaceful protest turned into the worst riots seen in the capital since the poll tax demonstration of 1990, resulting in 46 people needing hospital treatment and an estimated bill of more than £5m.

November 30 1999

The biggest protest in the US since the Vietnam war took place on the streets of Seattle, where the World Trade Organisation was meeting.

An estimated 100,000 people protested peacefully until masked activists hijacked the demonstration and police in full riot gear responded with teargas and rubber pellets.

A smaller protest of 2,000 people at Euston station in London led to 40 arrests.

April 16-17 2000

Anti-globalisation protesters descended on Washington to disrupt meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Between 6,000 and 10,000 people managed to close the American capital for six hours and the human chain prevented some finance ministers from getting to their meetings.

Largely peaceful but violent clashes with police officers – many in riot gear, which had them being compared to Power Rangers – resulted in 600 arrests.

May 1 2000

May Day protests took place around the world. In London, where 4,000 people took to the streets, activists performed “guerrilla gardening” in Parliament Square and daubed paint and graffiti on monuments. What had been planned as peaceful protests ended in ugly scenes and 42 arrests.

August 15 2000

Rubber bullets were fired by police in Los Angeles at the end of a protest concert by the band Rage Against the Machine. A total of 39 people were arrested in four days in a series of protests against corporate greed.

Sally James Gregory