Thursday, August 30, 2007

APEC Draws Exclusion List

The New South Wales Police Minister, David Campbell, says people on an exclusion list for the APEC week will know they are banned from certain areas in Sydney.

Mr Campbell says when police finish compiling the list they will contact the individuals and tell them they are not allowed to enter the restricted APEC zones.

Roads will be closed within restricted zones and police will have more power to search people.

The Minister says people on the list have a record of violence and trouble-making at major events.

"We know that there are people, for example, who can be excluded from the Sydney Cricket Ground because they create too much grief at a sporting event," he said.

"I'm not saying that they're the people on the list but those people who are on the list, they'll know who they are because they've done this sort of thing before.

"But equally, police will be contacting them and saying, 'We believe that you are an excluded person'."

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

APEC: Undercover Policemen and Restriction Pamphlets

APEC, the 8 day long meetings have Sydneysiders issued with restriction pamphlets in their home ground. The NSW police indicate that they "will do everything in their power to ensure that the public are safe from violent protests during APEC". Will there be an agent provocateur? To this, they do not say.


NSW Police have hit back at concerns that undercover officers might be planted among APEC protesters to provoke violence.

The concerns have been raised by the NSW Greens after Canadian Police admitted planting undercover officers at a protest against a North American leaders' summit in Quebec last week.

Demonstrators claim the undercover officers were trying to provoke violence while Quebec police officials said their officers were mingling with protesters to identify those who might become violent, The Toronto Star reported.

The NSW Greens today called on the NSW Premier to guarantee that there would be no undercover police nor other security agents attempting to provoke violence during APEC demonstrations.

"In light of the admission by Canadian police that the men photographed with bandanas and rocks were undercover police officers, I call on the Premier give a public assurance to the people of NSW that similar tactics will not be employed by NSW Police or other security agencies during the APEC meeting," Greens member Sylvia Hale said.

"I have been concerned about the provocative nature of many of the recent statements by the Premier and the Police Minister and I want an assurance that the police will not be trying to manufacture an excuse for giving their new APEC powers and weapons a workout."

Ms Hale admitted she had no evidence any Australian police or security force would plant "agent provocateurs" in the crowds at APEC demonstrations.

"I don't have any direct proof. I'm definitely not saying that I have any evidence that this will happen."

NSW Police and the State Government have denied that police would provoke violence during the demonstrations.

A NSW Police spokeswoman said: "NSW Police Force does not use its officers to provoke violence in any situation."

Deputy Premier John Watkins said any protester who broke the law would be dealt with in terms of special APEC laws.

"NSW Police will do everything in their power to ensure that the public are safe from violent protests during APEC," he said.

"NSW Police have been working hard with protesters in the lead-up to APEC to minimise the disruption to Sydneysiders."

The main APEC protest is planned for Saturday, September 8, when thousands are expected to gather at Town Hall for a march.

The Quebec provincial police were forced to admit last week that they had planted undercover officers amid protesters after a damning video surfaced on YouTube, The Toronto Star reported.

The video shows three masked men being confronted by a protest organiser.

The organiser makes it clear the men are not welcomed and tells the crowd they are police officers.

Confronted by the crowd and the organiser, the men - one of whom is holding a rock in his hand - push towards the police line where they are shoved to the ground and handcuffed.

A photo that emerged last week shows the soles of the men's boots adorned by the same yellow triangles that a police officer kneeling next to him has on his boots, the paper reported.


Sydneysiders to receive APEC restrictions pamphlet

Related Story: More APEC restrictions announced for Sydney Residents in 16 postcodes around the Sydney CBD should this week receive a brochure explaining changes about traffic and transport during the APEC summit.

The four-page pamphlet includes maps, access to public venues and contact details.

The Federal Government spokeswoman for APEC, Anne Fulwood, says residents in Bondi will also be letter-dropped.

"The most important parts of that would include road closures and access to their residences and so on," she said.

"That's probably the most important thing during those days when areas might be closed off, for example, on the Sunday in Bondi when Icebergs is hosting Mrs Howard's leaders' spouses luncheon - there are certain restrictions then."

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"APEC Protestors, It's All Your Fault"

On the forthcoming APEC meeting, Australia first blames the protesters for the increased security. They then inform the people that the fireworks are not for the eyes of the public. What's next Howard?


Violent Protesters Blamed for Tight Security

Prime Minister John Howard says violent protesters are to blame for the severe security measures in place for the APEC meeting in Sydney.

New South Wales police have installed a security fence around parts of the Sydney central business district, acquired a new crowd-control water cannon and freed up prison cells in anticipation of a large number of arrests.

But Mr Howard denies the severe measures might actually incite violence.

"That is a common excuse by those who seek to take the law into their own hands," he said.

"If people didn't violently demonstrate, these precautions would not be necessary.

"But they violently demonstrated in Melbourne, police were injured and I fully support the efforts of New South Wales and Commonwealth police.

Mr Howard says he will be meeting with United States President George W Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Saturday of the APEC weekend.

He says he will be hosting an informal breakfast with both leaders as part of the trilateral security dialogue.

Mr Howard says the two visiting countries have much in common with Australia.

"That dialogue is not aimed at anybody but it expresses the fact that as strong cooperating democracies we do have some common interests in the Pacific region and it's an opportune time to have that meeting," he said.


APEC Fireworks "Not For Public Consumption"

The New South Wales Government has confirmed that it wants the public to stay away from the fireworks planned for the APEC long weekend of September 7-9.

The fireworks will be launched from barges to the east of the Harbour Bridge, as a backdrop for delegates having dinner in and around the Opera House on the Saturday night.

The New South Wales Deputy Premier, John Watkins, says the display will only be small and access to vantage points will be restricted.

"There'll be little to see and the security precautions will be tight," he said.

"The Commonwealth has confirmed their display will only be a small event for the APEC delegation, similar to those held for private parties or other exclusive events on the harbour.

"It's not really something we're encouraging people to come and look at."

Mr Watkins says it will be nothing like the New Year's Eve fireworks and he does not want people to be disappointed.

"I understand that the APEC fireworks will be 5 minutes or less, whereas the fireworks on New Year's Eve - there are two lots and they go for, I understand, 25 minutes or so," he said.

He says people should also avoid the CBD during the long weekend because street closures, parking restrictions, the heavy police presence and APEC protests could disrupt their plans.

The APEC summit runs from September 2-9.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Oppression in Burma Neglected in ASEAN

The whole world has condemned the suppression of peaceful demonstrations in Burma in the past week. The detention of leaders of the 88 Generation Students by the military regime in Rangoon has also been taken up by the United Nations, European Union and the international community. There have been protests before in Burma, mostly small and sporadic since 1988, but this time around the protests were bigger and prolonged. It was a watershed in Burmese politics and could mark the beginning of the end of one of the world's rogue regimes.

The Rangoon regime is used to suppressing its own people without worrying about the consequences. After all, why should they? They have everything under control with their armed security forces and thousands-strong civilian gang - the Union Solidarity and Development Association - whose members are on the streets ready to beat up democracy-loving people and ordinary civilians at a moment's notice. For decades, the Burmese students and people have wanted to express what went wrong in their society. They could not do it. When the paranoid junta leaders decided to move from Rangoon to Naypyidaw in 2005, the Burmese people were shocked.

They knew the junta leaders had spent a fortune to create the Disneyland-like new capital. And to further burden the already tight budget, the junta has grand plans to build a cyber city and, of course, a nuclear plant. But the junta leaders do not have the kind of money they claim to have. Revenues from gas and oil are not expected to come in abundantly until 2010. What else was left but to end fuel subsidies and further squeeze the ordinary people.

So when the junta decided to increase fuel prices, the Burmese people decided they had had enough. Most of the people earn meagre incomes to live from day to day. With the rise in fuel prices, the cost of food and other necessities also shoot skyward. The prices of eggs and garlic have increased by 90 per cent, meat by over 50 per cent. It means the people have to spend at least 90 per cent of their income on food. How can they survive like that? Ending the fuel subsidies will not bring the junta much revenue anyway.

The International Monetary Fund has been advising the junta on how to modernise its economic management and tax collection system. In normal circumstances, the junta's latest move would have been considered sound economic policy. But given the long-standing suppression and suffering of the Burmese people, the fuel-price hike represents a small window to speak out. It could be the straw that broke the camel's back. The students and the public sensed correctly that the time had come to show solidarity on the streets. If there was a lesson learned from the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, it was that one must not look down on the suppressed and hopeless Burmese people because they can rise up. The junta's spell was broken.

As usual, Asean has been dead silent. Senior Asean officials are meeting now in Singapore to finalise the draft of the Asean Charter, a document meant to strengthen the grouping. But it is hypocritical for Asean to talk about making Asean one community or one family. Since its admission in 1997, Asean has had traumatic dealings with Burma. The Burmese regime has never behaved in a way that would enhance a close-knit Asean family. The junta does not care a hoot what Asean thinks. When Thailand had a coup last year, quite a few Asean leaders had strong views on Thai democracy. When it comes to Burma, the leaders are more willing to keep their mouths sealed. It would not be wrong to say that Asean has been always more sympathetic to the Burmese junta. Obviously, a future collapse of the junta would impact on the grouping's democratic space and openness. Asean must have a clear awareness of Burma's situation. The group can no longer sit idle. How can Asean be people-oriented and have a charter that is people-centred if the current suppression of the Burmese people continues without the grouping voicing strong concern?

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

ASEAN Saga for Solidarity Continues

40th Ministerial Meetings in Manila open new horizons for the region

More than two weeks after the 40th ASEAN Ministerial Meetings (AMM) concluded, editorial and opinion columns of Philippine newspapers have not ceased assessing its achievements. Manila hosted the high-level ministerial meetings from July 29 to August 2 held at the heavily secured venue of the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). As has always been observed, such occasion would put the government into a frenzy of "beautification" program weeks before the event. Squatters lining up the shoulder of highways from international airports are relocated, shanties painted with lively colors and idle plots landscaped. In one article, such measures were criticized by housing rights activist groups as being part of a "culture of self-deception."

Yet despite the criticisms, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo confidently delivered the keynote at the AMM's opening ceremony on July 30 in which she stressed the theme of "one caring and sharing community." In the audience were foreign ministers, special envoys, senior and officials from 26 countries and the European Union. In her speech, President Arroyo highlighted the advances of the ASEAN since its founding in Bangkok in 1967. She defined the vision of an ASEAN community as one that is not only based on economic integration but one anchored on social justice and the alleviation of poverty in the region as well.

While acknowledging the growing complexity of global conditions that could hamper such goals, President Arroyo affirmed ASEAN's important role in the "transformation of (our) region and the world." The need to capitalize on political and geographical relations with East Asia was pointed out as a vital element to the forging of a greater Asian community.

With the target for a full ASEAN Community set for 2015, President Arroyo urged the member states and its dialogue partners to sustain what has so far been achieved in the last 40 years of the organization's existence. The declaration of the ASEAN Charter that was issued during the ASEAN Summit in Cebu City held in January this year was noted as the outcome of the region's desire for integration. Yet given the diversity of Southeast Asia nations and cultures, such integration may not be as smooth as it has been envisioned. In this context, the mention of a Southeast Asian's "shared history" has once again brought on the comparison with the EU's long integration process--difficult but still possible.

The 5-day Manila AMM thus witnessed a strengthened call for unity. Many of the considered highlights of the meetings were also viewed as historic firsts. The denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was given special attention in the Six-Party Talks of foreign ministers and special envoys. In a separate panel, the need to secure the region as a nuclear weapons free zone was addressed in a commission called the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ) that formulated a 5-year plan of action.

The rights and welfare of migrant workers were also taken up as one of the region's urgent concerns. Two major documents were drawn up to advance and protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers. One of the statements provides for a 'sanctuary' for ASEAN nationals finding themselves in a crisis situation. An ASEAN national living in any ASEAN member state may now seek refuge or assistance in any ASEAN missions. The implication of such a provision for migrant workers, particularly, domestic helpers who are most vulnerable to abuses has been lauded.

However, among the issues taken up in the AMM, the concern for the human rights posed a brief impasse. With the proposal in the ASEAN Charter to include establishing a human rights committee to monitor violations and possibly sanction member countries came the strong objection of Myanmar. Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were also noted as having expressed resistance to the human rights committee.

After the deliberations, what was announced however by Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, who chaired most of the meetings, was that a "consensus" has been achieved. Political analysts and commentators, however, were not eager to accept that such a "consensus" could be considered a milestone. The objections of Myanmar and other countries were seen as the result of how nations' individual histories may impede the process of building an ASEAN community.

Noted journalist Amando Doronila of Philippine Inquirer wrote in an editorial that Foreign Secretary Romulo's declaration that the ministers reached a "consensus" on the human rights committee is shortsighted. The use of the word "consensus," Doronila argues in his article, is simply a semantic vagueness. More than anything else, it is ans evasion of resolution that is often largely described as the ASEAN style of doing things. For Myanmar hence to agree in "principle," may not lead to any strategies that would operationalize the human rights provision.

Adrian E. Cristobal, a veteran journalist of the Manila Bulletin, on the other hand, wrote in his column that "non-interference" in another country's internal affairs, which has been hailed as ASEAN's trademark, may probably be the best deterrent to having a human rights commission for the ASEAN.

With the 5-day meeting officially ending with the ASEAN's chairmanship turned over to Singapore, more is expected to unfold in the November summit. Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo in accepting the new leadership predicts, as quoted an article by Veronica Uy: “The center of gravity of the world shift(ing) to Asia in this century.”

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

APEC Protest Group Swells

Activists and unions expect more than 10,000 to protest during APEC. The main student protester organisation, the Stop Bush Coalition, had originally estimated that 5000 people would March on Saturday, September 8.

The APEC Taskforce expects 5000 summit-related delegates to attend the summit, while there will be a contingent of more than 5000 police and defence force in Sydney during Leaders' Week from September 2 to 9.

A meeting on Monday night which included the Fire Brigade Employees Union and the Maritime Union of Australia decided to change the route of the protest to avoid a direct confrontation with police, according to an attendee.

The protest group originally told police that the march would start at Town Hall, in George Street, go down to Circular Quay and then stop outside the Opera House for a festival.

The Opera House falls within an APEC restricted area and police have said entry will only be allowed to accredited individuals.

It is understood the unions favoured a more conservative route that would avoid a direct confrontation with police, according to an attendee at the event.

The protesters now intend to march from Town Hall, in George Street, to outside the US Consulate in Martin Place - in the APEC declared area - before having a festival in Hyde Park, according to an attendee at the meeting.

Police have extraordinary powers to stop and search individuals in the declared area during the APEC summit.

Protest organisers are frustrated with police from the APEC command who have yet to respond formally to their Schedule One despite the document being submitted in May.

"We're going to put every effort to get over 10,000 marchers," said the attendee. "I suspect you will see people also having smaller protests there on the Friday.''

The protesters are also angry with police who accuse them of planning violent protest during the summit.

"The police have been characterising the demonstrators who will be protesting outside APEC as having a violent agenda and of wanting a confrontation with police," said Jim Casey from the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union.

"At best police are misinformed and at worse they are trying to paint us as something we're not. We're extremely clear that this will be a peaceful demonstration.'' reported last week that a training video used by riot police feature members of the MUA and implied they would take part in violent protest.

Mr Casey said the new route would reduce the chance of a direct confrontation with police.

"It was simply felt that police were being hypersensitive and the Martin Place was seen as more inoffensive proposal," he said. "There's real concern because we have an open and public commitment to engage in peaceful demonstration on the eighth of September.''

The head of the police APEC command, Peter Lennon, said in a July interview he expected violent protest.

"I think there will be a violent protest but my appeal to the people is, is there any other way that we can just sort this out whereby we do it in a mature fashion, where we allocate you the space where you can stand on that corner and walk on that street and you can have your protest and there will be media because protesters gather media," he said

Mr Lennon also said at the time that protesters would not be able to reach the Opera House.

"Getting to the Opera House I think there are going to be some difficulties because they're getting close to a venue where these leaders are," he said.

While Mr Lennon said he expected violent protest he also admitted there was no black list of banned protesters because they had not identified anyone dangerous enough.

"If we found someone who we would have to exclude, then we would have to go and inform that person,'' he said. "But we have not come across any people that come anywhere near that."

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Monday, August 13, 2007

ASEAN Struggling for Human Rights and Democracy

Reflecting on 40 years of cooperation, it can be said that ASEAN has achieved a great deal. In August 1967, the foreign ministers of five Southeast Asian countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore -- met in Bangkok and established a new association. At the time, their central concern was to mend fences and to build intra-regional political confidence.

In terms of this basic goal, the accomplishments of ASEAN are clear. Over the last four decades, there has been no direct military confrontation between the five countries. It can be said that the situation today would probably have been significantly different if ASEAN had not existed, taking into consideration the seriousness of intra-regional tensions in the 1960s.

More remarkably, ASEAN has achieved more than its founders originally sought. To begin with, the original five members have integrated all the Southeast Asian countries within the framework of ASEAN, thereby constructing a community of ten nations.

Furthermore, ASEAN has attained a status as the center of Asia-Pacific regional security cooperation, involving major powers such as China, the U.S., Japan and Russia. The association of minor powers in Southeast Asia held the first meeting of the Asian Regional Forum (ARF) in July 1994, thereby taking the initiative for Asia-Pacific region-wide cooperative security. Since then, the ARF has been the most prominent multilateral security arrangement in the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition, in the economic area, ASEAN has quite a track record. The founding document of the association, the 1967 Bangkok Declaration, vaguely stated that ASEAN should accelerate economic growth. Unsurprisingly, during the 1970s and the 1980s, the development of economic cooperation stagnated.

In retrospect, the Singapore Summit in 1992 was the turning point. In this meeting, the leaders decided to seek an ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). Today, it is fair to say that such an area has been virtually established.

The above review of ASEAN cooperation demonstrates that the association has had many achievements. At the same time, however, the challenges which its members are facing today are enormous.

While there are numerous items on the agenda, the most urgent one can easily be singled out: The pursuit of liberalism, the elements of which include the norms of human rights and democracy. The pursuit of liberal agendas has not been an integral part of ASEAN diplomacy, which has traditionally been state-centered, designed to address the interests of governments. The challenge now is to address the interests of the people of Southeast Asia, some of whom have been under political oppression.

The issue of Myanmar constitutes the core of this new challenge. ASEAN has thus far avoided being intrusive. However, the pursuit of liberalism is more urgent than any other agenda item, for two reasons.

The first is a moral one. Although it is not my purpose to make value judgments, it is hard to deny the importance of human rights and democracy. Thus ASEAN should never turn a blind eye to any abuse of human rights in Southeast Asia.

The second reason has to do ASEAN's international standing. Any political actor would lose its international legitimacy if it downplayed the norms of human rights and democracy, which have increasingly attracted concern in today's global society.

ASEAN today has to be accountable to the international community. During the Cold War era, the relevance of the Southeast Asian association was a function of superpower rivalry, and its members focused only on intra-regional fence-mending. In contrast, ASEAN today is an independent player in the global society, involving major powers but itself leading the cooperative security process in the Asia-Pacific region.

If ASEAN is to maintain its status as the center of Asia-Pacific cooperation, it has no choice but to address issues of human rights and democracy. The participant countries of the ARF process do question the legitimacy of the leader of this process. The 2005 ARF is a case in point: The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice boycotted the meeting, recognizing the possibility that the Southeast Asian countries might allow Myanmar to chair the series of ASEAN meetings in 2006-2007. In the following year, she attended the ARF, but only because ASEAN had made it clear that Myanmar would not chair the meetings.

The pursuit of liberalism, which is important for these two reasons, is one of the key points at issue in the drafting of the ASEAN Charter. The members of the association are now seeking to establish the charter, and debating whether and to what extent the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states should be modified. The amendment of this principle would enable them to implement intrusive measures and to take punitive action against countries which violated liberal norms.

Yet, at the same time, it would be unreasonable to expect a sudden change in ASEAN's diplomatic style. The unity of the association is crucial for all the members, and any intrusive measure may be detrimental to it. ASEAN has become a global player, only because its members have been able to speak with one voice. Since its establishment, this association of minor powers, by acting as one body, has been able to ensure a bigger role for Southeast Asia than any member could have played alone.

With regard to Myanmar, the ASEAN members have been careful not to alienate this country. The worst scenario for them is that Yangon will become China's proxy, speaking on behalf of Beijing. In this respect, ASEAN needs Myanmar as much as Yangon needs the Southeast Asian association.

The drafting process of the charter has reached its crucial stage. The ASEAN countries are planning to finalize the content of the charter in their summit meeting in November. Their challenge is to strike a balance between two opposing goals -- the enhancement of international legitimacy and the maintenance of the unity of the association.

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