Successful boycott of IMF, WB meet

Few activists showed up Wednesday at the area designated for protests on the first day of International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings following a call for a boycott by 14 civil society organizations (CSO).

Instead of the scores initially expected on the opening day of the event, the taped off space for protests was empty except for police guards and the two rooms with computers allocated for the CSOs contained only six users. Fourteen foreign organizations had called for the boycott on a website and lashed out at Singapore's government for imposing "draconian security measures."

The groups included such diverse organizations as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, the European Network on Debt, Solidarity Africa Network, Jubilee USA Network, the UK-based World Development Movement and the Italian-based Campaign to Reform the World Bank. All are protesting the government's ban on 28 foreign activists deemed security risks, though they were accredited by the IMF and World Bank. Singapore police said earlier that the barred activists were denied entry because they were "characters" previously involved in "disruptive activities."

Representatives of six of the 14 groups were among those banned. "In solidarity with those denied entry into Singapore and denied the exercise of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association, we will stay away from all meetings and seminars in the official programme at the World Bank and IMF 2006 annual meetings," the groups said in a joint statement.

Sandy Krawitz, with the Johannesburg-based Action Aid International, said the call would probably reduce the number of CSOs showing up since the 14 groups contained so many well-known organizations. "I'm saddened," she said. "The people need to have a voice at meetings of this importance. What we have is postage stamp space." She noted several others from Action Aid International were on their way and planned a series of policy briefings. "We were told not to shout or speak loudly when holding protests," she added.

The 14 organizations were scheduled to participate in a week-long civil society forum where they were to have met with IMF and World Bank leaders. A record 508 activists had been accredited for the meetings, the highest number ever.

More than 16,000 delegates are expected to attend the week-long meetings set to focus on plans to give poor and rapidly developing countries more voting power in the IMF, address criticism of the institution as being outdated since its handling of the 1997 currency crisis in Asia, and give the body more of a surveillance role. Included in a two-year plan is boosting the clout of China, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey in recognition of their increasing economic might. Every third year, the meetings are held outside the United States. The last session outside the IMF and World Bank headquarters in Washington was in 2003 in Dubai.

Outdoor meetings or protests, usually accompanying such events in other countries, were prohibited early on by Singapore which is hoping to showcase the city-state as a safe venue for future international conventions and meetings. The CSO statement accused the government of implementing "special surveillance measures" to stifle dissent and possible protests. The IMF and World Bank were also blamed for selecting restrictive Singapore to avoid "legitimate and peaceful street protests," the groups said. The city-state has outlawed public assembly since the 1960s and any outdoor gathering of four or more people requires a police permit. Steel barricades have been erected at several locations, including a park across the street from the Suntec City meeting venue. Roads are blocked, and 10,000 police and soldiers are on guard for unlawful gatherings or threats of terrorism.

With Indonesia belatedly allowing non-government organizations to hold a forum on the island of Batam, a short ferry ride from Singapore, police have stepped up security there, deploying an anti-terrorist unit to patrol the airport, four ports and other sites.

Other groups included on the list of boycotters were the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, Freedom from Debt Coalition of the Philippines, Jubilee South, Focus on the Global South, 50 years is Enough: US Network for Global Economic Justice, Oil Watch International and the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt.

(c) Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2006
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