Prague recovers from violent clashes on 'global action day'
Prague is recovering from its worst night of violence since the overthrow of Communism in 1989. Thousands of anti-globalisation demonstrators, many of them foreign, fought running battles with police in the streets of the Czech capital on Tuesday, as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank began their annual meeting. More than 60 people were injured as protestors clashed with police in streets surrounding the Prague Congress Centre, and the Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced on Wednesday morning that 420 people had been arrested. Some three thousand demonstrators were involved in a tense but largely peaceful stand-off with police on Tuesday afternoon on Nusle bridge, the main access route to the building. Elsewhere, smaller groups of protestors fought a series of violent street battles with riot police supported by water cannon and armed personnel carriers. Later in the evening, groups of demonstrators headed for the city centre, smashing shop windows and burning barricades. Officials said last night that around ten thousand protestors were involved in the demonstrations - less than half the number originally predicted.
Delegates were eventually forced to leave the Congress Centre by metro, from where they were taken under police guard to a gala evening in the north of the city. A planned gala evening at the National Opera House was cancelled due to the street protests. The demonstrations are set to continue on Wednesday, with protestors again planning to blockade the Congress Centre. A train carrying Italian activists from the Ya Basta group has left Prague for Rome, and Wednesday's protests are unlikely to be as violent as Tuesday's - although several thousand demonstrators remain in the Czech capital.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Vaclav Havel called for greater global responsibility in his official opening speech to delegates at the meeting. Mr Havel described poverty as "one of the most visible manifestations of our contradictory civilisation" and said everyone was jointly responsible for solving the problem of the world's poor. It was the first time the IMF World Bank annual meeting has been opened by the head of state of a host country. President Havel also used the occasion to congratulate the Yugoslav opposition leader Vojislav Kotunica on his apparent victory over President Slobodan Milosevic in Sunday's presidential elections.
President Havel's speech was followed by addresses by the heads of the two institutions. The managing director of the IMF, Horst Koehler, said in today's world there was a definite need for organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank. World Bank President James Wolffsohn told delegates that the Bank was currently undergoing reform which would see greater transparency and partnership.
Before the trouble started on Tuesday, the Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman downplayed the protestors, telling journalists that many of the mostly foreign demonstrators were probably still asleep after a night sampling Prague's many pubs and restaurants. Mr Zeman, speaking to the BBC, said there was no risk of seeing the sort of violence that disrupted trade talks in Seattle last year. But Mr Zeman added that he was no fan of fast food outlets such as McDonald's.
Turning to sports news now - the Czech double Olympic gold medallist Martin Doktor has been disqualified from the men's C1 500 metres canoeing event at the Sydney Games, after the German team protested that he had breached the five-metre rule. The International Canoe Federation's rule 27.3, which deals with sprint racing up to one kilometre, says competitors must keep their lane from the start to the finish of the course. Officials said they had upheld a protest by the German team despite the fact that both course umpires had waved their white flags to indicate the race was clear of interference. The Czech team have appealed against the decision.
And finally, Thursday's weather forecast. Tomorrow should see more cloudy weather in the Czech Republic, with rain in places. Maximum daytime temperatures should reach 22 degrees Celsius. I'm Rob Cameron, and that's the end of the news.
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