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Thousands march peacefully in nation's capital

Protestors march near the World Bank and IMF in Washington Saturday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A chorus of protesters hit the streets of Washington Saturday, rallying peacefully and colorfully for a range of causes under the watchful eyes of police.

An International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting, Middle East tensions, the ongoing U.S.-led war on terrorism and comfortable spring weather attracted thousands of demonstrators to the nation's capital.

Many of the groups, which generally focused on human rights and expressed concerns over U.S. and international government policies, converged at the U.S. Capitol around 3 p.m.

"They've been very well-organized ... respecting the fences that have been put up to help their movement," said U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers, noting there were no arrests or major confrontations with police. "Everything has been very peaceful. We hope it continues that way."

Activists gather in Washington D.C. on behalf of causes ranging from Palestinian solidarity to economic justice to the U.S.-led war on terrorism. (April 20)

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Gallery: A smorgasbord of rallies  

Authorities had braced for the protests late this week, removing trash cans and newspaper boxes from city streets -- to prevent demonstrators from throwing them -- and setting up road blocks to contain and steer marchers.

Weekend leave was cancelled for 3,800 members of the Washington police force, and officers from nearby cities and counties in Maryland and Virginia were called in to help with crowd control, said Washington police department spokesman Anthony O'Leary.

Authorities also focused on the demonstrators' safety, with city Police Chief Charles Ramsey expressing fears Saturday someone could use "an event like this as an opportunity to commit some act of terrorism." But while insisting police would be attentive, he said his department had no intelligence about any planned attacks.

Palestinian supporters stage large rally

Friday night, authorities detained dozens of bicyclists for ignoring red lights and driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

The cyclists were protesting the Army's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, based at Fort Benning, Georgia. Critics say the institute provides military training for armed forces personnel who commit human rights violations in their Latin American nations, a claim the U.S. government denies.

Caravans of buses, many from U.S. mosques, brought Palestinian supporters to the grassy ellipse behind the White House on Saturday morning, setting the stage for one of the day's biggest rallies.

During the demonstration -- organized by a group called A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) protesters chanted and waved signs reading, "Free Palestine," "No War in Iraq" and "Don't Fund Israel Killing."

Near the A.N.S.W.E.R. rally, another group of demonstrators railed against the U.S.-led war on terrorism and its fight to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan. Several protesters told CNN they believe fighting terrorism with military action will only lead to more violence.

IMF-World Bank protesters 'dedicated to nonviolence'

Elsewhere in Washington, members of the Mobilization for Global Justice gathered near the headquarters of the IMF and World Bank as members from the world's seven richest industrial countries met inside to discuss foreign aid and Argentina's deepening financial crisis.

Unlike similar protests in recent years, which led to violence and thousands of arrests, the global justice group said it's "dedicated to nonviolence" -- a value in evidence Saturday.

The group wants the World Bank to open its meetings about loans to developing nations, reform policies it claims encourage governments to cut spending on social services, and forgive the debts of many Third World countries.

James Wolfensohn, the president of the World Bank, said this week that the institution has "come a hell of a long way" in making changes to assist developing nations.

The D.C. Chapter of Free Republic is among many other groups holding rallies this weekend in Washington. The group voiced its support for President Bush's policies.


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