Demonstrators and police clash at IMF meetings in Istanbul

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Large clashes erupted in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday between protesters and security forces, near the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The protests came as the head of the IMF warned policymakers from 186 countries of social upheaval as the world economic crisis continues.

File photograph of Taksim Square
Image: Bryce Edwards.

Demonstrators — chanting against the World Bank and IMF — marched to Taksim Square, in the heart of Istanbul. The protests drew several thousand people — mostly leftists, anti-globalisation groups, liberal democrats and trade unionists. Analysts say that the IMF and World Bank do not have a good reputation among many people in Turkey, because they have been associated with austerity programs and hardship.

Monday's announcement by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that his government is close to signing a new agreement with the IMF made some demonstrators angry. "We are angry, but we know that we are right. We want just to protect our rights — and for this, we are here," said one man.

The demonstration was largely peaceful until protesters attempted to march to where the World Bank and IMF meetings were being held. Police moved in, using water cannons, tear gas and baton charges. The demonstrators responded by setting fires and throwing rocks at the police in the narrow back streets of Istanbul. The center of the city turned into chaos, with both shoppers and protesters running for cover.

Armored cars were dispatched to restore order in the city, spraying water and tear gas at the protesters. The police also sent out several helicopters. Shops pulled down their shutters and banks closed. A taxi driver was reported to have had a heart attack from the effects of tear gas.

While the clashes were ongoing, the IMF's Managing Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warned of the danger of social unrest in emerging economies due to the global economic downturn.

"Nineteen million people are about to be put into extreme poverty because of the crisis. What we are talking about is not only higher unemployment or lower purchasing power in the lower income countries; it is about life and death. We could see in those countries, social unrest, political instability, or even war," he said.

However, Strauss-Kahn said the crisis could be worse and said international cooperation has prevented a more serious global recession. He said leaders should now try and take the opportunity to shape what he called "the post crisis world".