- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

AIDS activists, angry about trade barriers to the distribution of new drugs, are expected to join other marchers in the District of Columbia today for the first of several protests targeting government and financial institutions.

Organizers of last year's protests against the IMF and World Bank here are behind these demonstrations, and D.C. police are gearing up accordingly.

"We will be prepared to handle large crowds, large unruly crowds and large unruly crowds that engage in criminal misconduct," said the department's No. 2 official, Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer.

A coalition of local activists, along with students and union members, today will team up with ACT UP Philadelphia, the largest and most boisterous chapter of the AIDS advocacy group, for a protest of about 1,000 people at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 600 17th St. NW.

Activists say they have no formal plans for civil disobedience tactics such as human blockades across building entrances or streets but promise it won't be tame.

"It's definitely going to be peaceful, although I think it will be raucous," said Robert Naiman, a protest organizer who works as a senior policy analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the District.

"I don't think anyone will be intending to be arrested. But that's not a guarantee," he added.

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power in Philadelphia is bringing in about 500 AIDS patients and others on buses, and "there will be a lot of angry people," said Allison Dinsmore, a member of the group.

"There might be civil disobedience," she said. "It will be colorful. We'll have smoke bombs and street theater," which consists of elaborate puppets, signs, chants and makeshift drums.

The group will gather at McPherson Square around noon, and then march to the trade office around 12:30 p.m.

Last year, police prevented a "Seattle-style" riot and arrested more than 1,200 demonstrators over a week of protests against the meetings of World Bank and IMF.

Police plan to treat today's event, which has a permit, like most of the other demonstrations that occur on a daily basis, police officials said.

The special operations division (SOD) will be on hand to assist the marchers, temporarily closing off streets to traffic if necessary and ensuring no chaos breaks out, officials said.

ACT UP Philadelphia is one of the least cooperative of protest groups and has not contacted police to make any arrangements, said SOD Commander Michael Radzilowski.

"We just want to assist them in expressing their First Amendment rights," he said. "We won't know until they get here what they want to do."

The activists are mobilizing in opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) trade summit in Quebec later this month. Today, they will demand that U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick oppose intellectual property rules that they say will make AIDS drugs more difficult to obtain in poor countries.

They also say FTAA rules give corporations the right to sue nations, opening up poor African nations to liability for using generic drugs on AIDS patients.

The World Bank and IMF hold their spring meetings at the end of the month, but the District is getting a pass of sorts on major disruptions this year, according to activists.

Most groups are planning protests in Quebec or at the U.S.-Canadian border to oppose the FTAA summit from April 20 to 22.

But several demonstrations are planned for the same period in the District, San Francisco and other cities. And activists said they won't let the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF slide by without at least some protests.

Police officials told The Washington Times yesterday they expect the worst of the protests to be at the end of the month during the financial institutions meetings.

"The department will be fully mobilized," Chief Gainer said. "We don't want to be caught off guard like some jurisdictions. If you're unprepared, that's when Pearl Harbor happens."

Police are prepared to shut down as large an area of downtown as they did last year, but they might keep the secure area smaller "if we see people acting responsibly and in smaller groups," Chief Gainer said.

"We will be prepared to sanitize a greater-sized area so things can't be used against businesses or us," he said.

Police officials are aware much of the activists' attention is aimed at Quebec, but Chief Gainer said there's a "distinct possibility" it could be a feint to draw attention away from the District.

"But I don't think they're that sophisticated," he added. "It's like chess strategy with all the analyzing. To them it's a game, but to us it's a safety issue and an expensive proposition."

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