September 15, 2006

Activists call for global boycott of IMF and World Bank meetings

Activists renewed their call for a global boycott of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings on Friday after the chiefs of the two bodies were unable to secure entry for banned groups.

The non-government organizations cited "the draconian security measures" put in place by the Singapore government as the factor that prompted them to hold their International People's Forum on the Indonesian Island of Batam.

Earlier this week 14 international and regional groups announced a boycott and all called on others to follow their example. More than 70 groups responded positively, an activist said.

Both IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato and World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged they had brought up the ban on 27 civil society members with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday.

Wolfowitz, who maintained earlier that Singapore was breeching a 2003 memorandum of understanding stipulating the city-state would allow entry to all those accredited by the IMF and World Bank, said he expressed his belief that the participation of the NGOs "was indispensable."

He was told activists would be assessed individually at entry.

"Singapore has their laws and their priorities," said Rato. "We
certainly respect the work" of the NGOs.

Indonesian authorities initially rejected the holding of the forum on Batam, but then relented with the stipulation that there be no protests.

Activists opting to stay in the two rooms reserved for them in the lobby of Suntec City said they wanted to participate in the Civil Society Forum, which runs for a week. Organized by the IMF and the Bank, the forums are aimed at bringing together the institution's staff, civil society representatives, government officials and others.

Most of the 150 chairs in the seminar hall were empty, with only about 30 people turning up for each of the first two sessions.

With amplification systems banned and the activists told not to speak loudly, a group wearing masks over their faces and clad in T-shirts saying, "Stand Up Against Poverty With Us" ventured into the small protest area in the corner of the lobby.

"No Voice," read the print on the masks.

In addition to deporting two people from the Philippines and one from India considered security risks, three Singapore soldiers were questioned by police over a mass e-mail informing people how to stage legal protests during the meetings.

They are being investigated for printing and possessing materials which may incite violence, a police spokesman said. The e-mail went out to more than 200 people.

More than 500 NGOs had been accredited by the IMF and World Bank.

Singapore regards itself as a prime target for terrorists and beefed up security to the maximum for the event, with 10,000 police and soldiers scouring the city-state.

More voting power

The key issue on the delegate's agenda is a plan by the IMF to give more voting power to China, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey. The Fund's 184 member countries are expected to vote on that as part of a larger package by Monday.

They will also address criticism of the institution as being outdated since its handling of the 1997 currency crisis in Asia and giving the IMF more of a surveillance role.

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.

Singapore, which spent 60 million US dollars preparing for the event, is hoping to showcase the city-state as a safe venue for future international conventions and meetings.

The city-state has outlawed public assembly since the 1960s and any outdoor gathering of four or more people requires a police permit.


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