- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

A few hundred local activists yesterday joined with a Philadelphia AIDS advocacy group downtown to demonstrate against free trade, the first of several planned protests this month targeting government and financial institutions.

Radicals involved in last year's World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) protests here teamed with ACT UP Philadelphia, the largest and most boisterous chapter of the AIDS advocacy group, to demand trade policies that would allow poor African nations to treat AIDS patients with generic drugs.

Chanting "Medication for every nation" and "They say FTAA, we say no way," referring to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, about 300 people gathered at McPherson Square at about noon and marched to the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, at 17th and F streets NW.

"We have to smash every system that protects profits and investments and not people," one woman shouted through a megaphone from the middle of the crowd.

Organizers had said more than 1,000 protesters were to participate, but no more than 300 persons showed up. They used their usual props signs, noisemakers, bullhorns. Also included was a six-person puppet with Mr. Zoellick's name on it.

The Metropolitan Police Department's Special Operations Division shadowed the group, keeping them mostly to the sidewalk and briefly blocking traffic when necessary. Officers lined the street and stood between demonstrators and the U.S. trade representative's office building.

"They were reasonable. We've got no complaints," said the department's No. 2 official, Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer, who monitored the rally.

Jim Strub, a member of the Philadelphia chapter of AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP), complained that police officers shoved some of his group onto the sidewalk during the march.

"Many of these people who have AIDS are literally taking their life in their hands by coming out there," Mr. Strub said. "If they get arrested and go to jail and weren't planning on it, they won't have their pills."

Chief Gainer said there was "a little bit" of jostling.

"We gave them part of the street," he said. "We try to accommodate their rights and not impede others too much."

When the group arrived at the trade representative's office, police asked them to move to the sidewalk and "they were respectful and got back on," Chief Gainer said.

As a few activists picked up fliers and trash afterward, Chief Gainer said, "They're even cleaning up. That's America."

This spring's protests center on the FTAA summit in Quebec later this month. The trade agreement would create a single open market from Alaska to Argentina. Yesterday's rally was billed as a "send-off" for Mr. Zoellick.

The groups oppose FTAA intellectual-property rules, which 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, which would open poor African nations to liability suits for using generic drugs on AIDS patients.

Activist groups across the nation are gearing up for protests in Quebec and at the U.S.-Canadian border during the April 20-22 FTAA meeting, but some demonstrations are planned for the District at the same time.

Local activists plan protests for the spring meeting of the World Bank and IMF at the end of the month, but said those rallies will not be nearly as massive as last year's.

At least 10,000 activists descended on the District last April and unsuccessfully attempted to shut down the financial meetings. Police arrested more than 1,200 people during the week of protests.


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