Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Activists Urged To Be More Creative

Foreign activists wondering if anyone will hear their pleas amid the restrictions imposed by the Singapore government during the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) are being urged to "come and be creative." Although members of civil society groups have been threatened with arrests and worse should they dare to gather anywhere beyond the designated indoor area at the Suntec City venue, advisers are confident the anti-globalization and other causes can still be heard in both the city-state and on the Indonesian island of Batam.

The world's top bankers and finance ministers are among the 16,000 delegates descending on Singapore from September 11-20. Outdoor protests that normally accompany such high-profile events have been banned to prevent a deterioration into violence or a terrorist attack.

"It's not hopeless," said Roderick Chia, head of information at the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development. "It's an opportunity for civil society groups to come and be creative."

To attract the attention of delegates to the area of the lobby reserved for them, Chia suggested skits and forums. "Putting on plays centering on themes they want to highlight could be very effective. They have been in other situations."

New and alternative ways of presenting long-standing laments will enable delegates to see the civil society group members as "polite and diplomatic," he added.

Police used tear gas at the 2005 World Trade Organization conference in Hong Kong and arrested more than 1,000 people. Nearly 600 were injured during IMF meetings in Prague in 2000 after protestors hurled stones at police.

According to guidelines issued by the police, accredited groups must not move out of designated areas, burn items or behave in a manner that would "provoke a breach of peace."

An estimated 300 activists are expected either in Singapore or Batam, an hour ferry ride away. Many are likely to travel between the sites.

Public protests have long been prohibited in the city-state. Gatherings of more than four people require a police permit. Those convicted of unlawful assembly can be fined up to 1,000 Singapore dollars (645 US).

Hoping the world's biggest banking event will catapult Singapore further in its bid to become a global financial centre, elaborate precautions have been taken.

Helicopters will circle above on a watch for any illegal gatherings, and more than 10,000 soldiers and police plan to provide round-the-clock security.

Organizers are confident a parallel International People's Forum (IPF) planned by a consortium of non-government organizations will go ahead as planned on Batam.

"We're not backing out from the forum," said Chona Ramos, with the IPF secretariat in Manila.

Although media in Jakarta reported earlier that police said permits would not be issued for the event, Ramos said negotiations were continuing with Batam officials and the forum would most likely proceed. Foreigners would be able to attend, she said, but are banned from street protests under Indonesian law.

Sinapan Samydorai, head of the Think Center based in Singapore, noted the bulk of people going to Batam are Indonesians who, under law, have the right to protest as long as they give police three days notice.

"Come!" was also his message. "Civil society members will have opportunities for engagement with delegates.

As for the suggestion that they be creative in Singapore, Samydorai proposed wearing bright coordinated colours. "Adopt a grim expression" over the restrictions, he added.


For all of you who will be taking to the streets or indoor area, no violence please.

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