Saturday, November 15, 2008

Call it a World Bank-International Monetary Fund meeting on steroids.

The annual meeting turns city traffic into a nightmarish snarl, and Saturday’s gathering of leaders from the world’s 20 largest economies - the largest Washington summit in nearly a decade - promises to be even more horrific.

With the likes of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao jockeying for position in a new world pecking order, ordinary mortals are liable to get crushed. Authorities say residents and tourists would be well advised to steer clear of downtown - or at least the vicinity of the National Building Museum, where the emergency G-20 summit is being held.

Six entire blocks surrounding the museum, as well as the Judiciary Square Metrorail station, are closed Saturday until the summit ends. Blocks away, however, heavy-metal band AC/DC will keep rolling on their “Highway to Hell” Saturday night with up to 17,000 concertgoers at a sold-out Verizon Center.

A number of motorcade traffic disruptions were reported throughout the city Friday night as President Bush hosted a working dinner at the White House for the summit attendees.

The small lanes inside the White House compound and Pennsylvania Avenue, just outside its north lawn fence, were turned into what one Bush administration official called “a parking lot,” as a procession of 25 motorcades dropped off heads of state at the White House front door and then found places nearby to park.

The traffic around the District on Saturday afternoon looks to be at its worst when the summit disbands and world leaders spread out across the city for over a dozen speeches and press conferences that will occur virtually simultaneously.

D.C. police and security agencies - including the Secret Service and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau (DSB) - have the daunting task of protecting delegations from 20 nations, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank, clearing their motorcade routes and making sure several planned protests don’t get out of hand.

The last time they had to contend with so many world leaders was at NATO’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 1999.

Officials said they are prepared.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the department is deploying about 2,000 officers Saturday and will assist the Secret Service and the DSB with closing roads, monitoring protests and providing motorcade details and protection for Mr. Bush, the foreign leaders and others attending the summit.

Organizers for Global Justice Action, formed exclusively to protest the G-20 summit, said they will host a People’s Summit to offer “a vision of an inclusive, sustainable, people-centered economy that works for all the world’s families.”

On Saturday, the group will gather for a rally at Murrow Park, next to the World Bank Building at 18th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. At noon, the group will march from the park to Luther Place Church, at Logan Circle Park, where members will conduct a People’s Forum to offer alternative solutions to the current economic crisis.

“Clearly the current system is not working, and we want to offer real alternatives to what the G-20 leaders are proposing,” said Samantha Miller, spokeswoman for the D.C. Students for a Democratic Society, an event organizer.

Miss Miller said she expects up to 1,000 people to attend.

Metro closed Judiciary Square’s F Street entrance Friday night, leaving the Fourth and D streets entrance open. The Metrorail station is closed Saturday until 8 p.m. Metro trains will run through the station, but will not stop there.

Metro officials said they do not expect the closed station to be an inconvenience.

“We are not expecting any problems,” said Taryn McNiel, a Metro spokeswoman, noting that Judiciary Square station is used mainly by weekday commuters. She said that on average there are about 1,600 entries and exits at the station on Saturdays, compared with more 22,000 for the nearby Gallery Place-Chinatown station, the location of many shops, restaurants and the Verizon Center.

Metro riders should be aware that the transit agency could conduct random searches of passengers’ bags at the gate. Those who refuse a search will not be allowed to board Metro with their bags.

Chief Lanier said the police department has plenty of officers available because of a previously scheduled “All Hands on Deck” show of force this weekend. The initiative, in which all available officers work patrol shifts over three-day periods, is one of the ways Chief Lanier has increased police visibility on weekends.

Because of the summit, “All Hands on Deck” has been postponed until next weekend.

“We’re fortunate we had all of this already planned out, and because of the full activation we’ll have plenty of officers on hand for all of the city’s needs,” she said.

Embassies around Washington are also checking last-minute details in preparation for the visiting foreign leaders.

“Whenever the president visits, it creates quite a considerable amount of activity,” a French diplomat said Thursday. The presidents and prime ministers will be traveling with a contingent of finance ministers, aides and reporters.

Italian Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta praised the Bush administration for its preparations for the summit.

“We’re very happy with the planning from the State Department, the Treasury Department, the National Security Council,” he said. “They have done outstanding work.”

Sheila Francis, a Verizon Center spokeswoman, said she did not foresee problems having the AC/DC concert a few blocks from the summit. “Most people who live in the D.C. area are familiar with a lot of events going on at once … so they plan in advance,” she said.

Ian Bauder, Nicholas Kralev, James Morrison and Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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