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News Briefs

Police Bracing for IMF, World Bank Protests


Tens of thousands of protesters are planning a weeklong series of rallies, marches and demonstrations aimed at disrupting meetings here next month of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Federal security officials and Washington police have a different idea, and plan to spend millions to maintain order.

Police planning has been guided by a steady escalation of anti-globalization protests since December 1999, when 40,000 people disrupted the Seattle meetings of the World Trade Organization. In Quebec last fall, nearly 50,000 rallied outside a meeting of leaders of Western Hemisphere nations. And last month, violent clashes between police and 100,000 demonstrators in Genoa, Italy, left one protester dead, 200 injured, $44 million in property damage and a backlash of criticism at police tactics.

Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey said he was particularly disturbed by approximately 60 molotov cocktails fired at police in Quebec -- “an escalation of violence in North America that we hadn’t seen before” and the reason he has ordered fire-retardant shields and fire extinguishers for his officers.

At volunteer meetings across the nation, over the Internet and at training camps in rural Virginia, several dozen organizations ranging from anti-capitalists to the AFL-CIO are preparing for the Washington protests, highlighted by a plan to encircle the White House with a human chain on Sept. 29, and a march and rally a day later.

Police say they expect as many as 100,000 demonstrators on one side of the barricades and 17,000 World Bank and IMF delegates and at least 17 heads of state on the other.

Lebanon at Key Juncture Amid Government Crackdown


Tensions remained high in Lebanon on Tuesday despite the release from detention of about 50 activists, with leaders across the political spectrum accusing President Emile Lahoud of trying to militarize society and stifle Christian opposition to Syrian influence by staging mass arrests.

With hundreds taken into custody over the last two weeks and a new law passed making it easier to detain citizens without filing charges, some political leaders say Lebanon is at a crossroads, with one path leading toward a police state and the other a more pluralistic, relatively democratic society.

“There are many signs indicating that authorities are working to set the stage for a security-intelligence project that entirely contradicts a civilian state, democracy and sovereignty of law,” said a statement issued after a recent conference in Beirut that brought together Christians, Druze and moderate Muslims.

With pressure building from within and abroad -- Pope John Paul II has signaled his concern over the government crackdown -- military authorities Tuesday released about 50 activists arrested for allegedly promoting disunity by opposing Syria’s dominance over Lebanon since a civil war ended in 1991.

Although Syria recently withdrew its troops from Beirut, it still has tens of thousands in the Bekaa Valley and maintains its role as the main power broker in Lebanon. Analysts said the events highlight two struggles central to Lebanon’s short- and long-term future.

U.S. Won’t Back Britain’s Oil Plan


The United States declined this week to back a British proposal to tighten U.N. procedures for pricing Iraqi oil, citing concern that the proposal might disrupt global oil markets, according to U.N. diplomats and oil analysts.

Over the past year, Iraq has tried to set artificially low prices on its oil and to force buyers to make up the difference through secret payments that would circumvent U.N. sanctions, according to U.S. and European diplomats.

The British proposal seeks to stop the back-door payments by reducing Iraq’s ability to sell oil below market value. It would require that Iraq and the United Nations jointly set prices every 10 days, rather than every 30 days, hewing closely to world levels. It also would deprive the Iraqis of the right to request reductions whenever the market price drops.

“We are trying to reduce the gap between the market price and the prices being set (at the United Nations) for Iraqi crude,” said a British official. “The excess margin allows unscrupulous buyers to make excessive profits and pay a cash surcharge to the Iraqi government.”

U.S. officials are in favor of clamping down on Iraq’s illicit revenues, which they suspect are used to purchase prohibited weapons and luxury goods for President Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. But the United States, the largest consumer of Iraqi oil, is concerned that the British proposal could disrupt trade.

Panda Probably Not Pregnant


Apparently unpregnant but still charismatic, Bai Yun is back in public. The annual panda fertility watch is over. Attempts at artificial insemination have failed and Bai Yun, a 10-year-old giant panda, is no longer confined to her maternity area in the backstage part of the panda grotto at the San Diego Zoo.

For a month Bai Yun had been off public view while being watched round-the-clock by panda specialists for signs of pregnancy: increased irritability, change in eating patterns, annoyance at her mate, the usual things.

But late last week, zookeepers reluctantly announced that insemination with sperm from Shi Shi, the zoo’s male panda, had apparently flopped. “Increased interest in food, lowered hormone levels and diminished nesting behaviors in recent days all point to a likelihood that we’ll not see a cub this year,” said Don Lindburg, leader of the zoo’s giant panda team.