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G-7 Protests Stay Calm In D.C.

Protesters banging buckets rallied against trade deals, Third World debt and war, taking those messages and more to the streets in numbers diminished from past years.

Peaceful and festive, a crowd of about 1,000 marched past the offices of multinational corporations they hold responsible for exploiting the poor, chanting "shame, shame" along the way.

The demonstrations are a spring ritual tied to the meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and, as always, the causes were varied. Protesters came to shout against the U.S. occupation of Iraq, sweatshop labor abroad, the policies of President Bush and much else.

"It's important to send a message in opposition to the poverty and misery that institutions like the World Bank and IMF force around the world," said David Thurston, 25, of New York City, an organizer from the International Socialist Organization.

"But it's also critical to connect opposition to corporate greed with the movement against the war, for abortion rights and for gay marriage."

At the summit, the world's major industrial countries expressed optimism about the global economy, contending the world was poised for strong growth this year and next. This, despite worries about high oil prices and Middle East unrest

The Group of Seven major industrial countries - the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada - struck an upbeat tone while acknowledging the risks.

They said they stood ready to provide financial assistance in the Middle East, hoping that efforts to improve the prospect for jobs will help to stabilize what is now a deteriorating security situation.

The G-7 nations said they were prepared to help rebuild the economies not just of Iraq and Afghanistan but also the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

Meanwhile, the demonstrators came together in brilliant sunshine and to the sounds of folk music. Police, accustomed to huge crowds and tense confrontations in past anti-globalization and anti-war protests, came out in strength but reported little trouble.

"There are always a few people in the crowd who cause a problem or two, but the majority of people who come to protest are not about that sort of thing," said Police Chief Charles Ramsey. "They just want to have their voices heard."

Scores of police behind 5-foot-high steel barricades kept the crowd well away from the World Bank and IMF, where finance ministers were meeting, when the parade reached that area.

Protesters paraded along more than 15 city blocks, pausing outside offices of construction company Bechtel and the oil-services giant Halliburton Co. Both are corporate interests that activists said are enriching themselves at the expense of the poor in Iraq and other countries.

One banner read, "Free Trade Means Sweatshop Labor." Another sign said, "IMF: You're Fired." Several people carried signs opposing the American presence in Iraq.

Demonstrators drove up the noise level by banging on white plastic buckets, metal pots and pans and at least one wok.

Greg Pason of Rochelle Park, N.J., brought his 10-year-old son Trevor to show him a good time and because he couldn't get a baby sitter. "We want to oppose the World Bank and their loaning policies, speak up for immigrants' rights and indigenous peoples' rights - all the things that are avoided in the international trade agreements," he said.

Robert Weissman of Mobilization for Global Justice, a protest sponsor, said it has been harder to gather a huge anti-globalization crowd since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"It's changed the focus of American politics so everyday working people, the media and the protesters look to a different set of issues," he said. "We really have the war on terrorism dominating the political discourse over the last 2-and-a-half years."

A separate and much larger protest was coming together Sunday, in favor of abortion rights.