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S26: Jubilee 2000 Protest In Old Town Square and story from"...

Jubillee 2000 protest called for an end to third world debt, hundreds marched into the old town square, Prague. The New Puppet Masters: Jubillee 2000 Rally Focuses on Children, Debt Relief.

By Matt Olson-Isthmus

Nearly a thousand protesters rallied today at Jubilee 2000, a rally focused on debt relief and children's issues. Protesters were unmolested by police, who stayed largely out of sight.

If Sam Kobia, Kenyan pastor and human rights activist is to be believed, totalitarianism is still alive and well. "Today we have new totalitarianism to replace the totalitarianism of Stalin," said Kobia, speaking against the backdrop of a giant steel metronome. "It is a financial totalitarianism, a totalitarianism of debt."

Several hundred activists and parents gathered on the steps of Letenske' Sady for Jubilee 2000, a protest of the impact of International Monetary Fund and World Bank debt policy on children in underdeveloped countries. The protest drew activists and religious leaders from at least 15 different European and African countries.

For protesters, the day began with a mock funeral procession for the victims of IMF/WB debt policy, moved to a series of speeches held on a stone pavillion overlooking the Vltava river and old Prague, and culminated in a March down Paritska street and into the old town square, much to the bewilderment of tourists.

The funeral procession set a somber tone for the morning, with marchers slowly ascending a gruelingly steep set of stone steps. The muted tones of a brass band discouraged conversation. Once at the pavillion, marchers were greeted by a large sign reading "Stop the Debt," which was flanked by a pair of massive stick puppets labeled "IMF" and "World Bank."

"We must let these puppet masters know," said speaker Anne Pattiford, "We are not asking for pity and we are not asking for charity. We are demanding justice for the world's poorest people."

While most speakers confined their remarks to children, debt relief and the IMF/WB, the simmering tensions between activists and the Czech government emerged near the end of the rally. "I've just recieved word that a caravan of 1,200 Italian youth activists has just been turned away from the border," said an unidentified speaker, his voice rising. "It is the IMF and the World Bank that should be turned away. They should be arrested, not the protesters." These remarks drew cheers from an already excited crowd.

At this point the rally broke, descending the steps and marching across the river. People broke into groups by nationality, political affiliation, or both. Nearly all marchers carried signs featuring such slogans as "Global Economics=Global Apartheid," "Our World is Not for Sale," "Break the Chains of Debt," and "Debt Keeps Kids out of School." The climax of the march occurred when the first wave of marchers "broke the chain of debt," in this case a serpentine plastic chain constructed of six foot long links and held by a dozen protesters. Once in the old town square, marchers cheered, chanted, sang and conversed.

Police presence was subdued all morning. No riot officers were seen and the only altercation occured when a cop told a protester to remove his signs from the base of a statue, amid much jeering from the crowd.

While todays march was not as large as yesterday's trade union march, it was more diverse. An Scottish activist (who asked that his name be withheld) put it best: "Look at these people. These are the people whose children are affected. They aren't just numbers on a spreadsheet."

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