Burmese Protestors vs Junta
PETITION: Support the Burmese protesters here
The burgundy robes of Buddhist monks usually evoke a sense of spiritual calm. But for the repressive junta that has ruled Burma for 45 years, the recent sight of shaven-headed clerics marching the streets has been anything but soothing. For more than a week now, tens of thousands of Buddhist clerics have rallied across the country, their daily alms routes turned into paths of protest. Some walked quietly with their begging bowls overturned — an implied excommunication of the military leaders whose punitive fuel hikes provoked the first demonstrations back in August. Initially, Burma's generals tried to extinguish the protests by arresting dozens of pro-democracy activists who had kick started the civil disobedience. But with the Buddhist clergy quickly taking over leadership of the movement, on Wednesday Sept. 26 the regime unleashed a violent crackdown on the protesters — a potentially dangerous move in this deeply devout nation. "The monks are the only ones who really have the trust of the people," says Khin Omar, an exiled dissident now living in Thailand. "When they speak up, people listen."
And when they act, people follow. By Sept. 24, thousands of ordinary Burmese had overcome their fear of the regime and joined the demonstrations, their shoes slapping through the monsoon downpours alongside the monks' bare feet. While marching monks recited prayers in the commercial capital Rangoon, civilians raised their fists and chanted their own mantra: "Democracy, democracy." The participation of normal citizens has turned what had been a series of sporadic rallies into the largest sustained display of dissent in Burma in nearly two decades. "The people's only weapons are their hands," said an elderly teacher watching the procession of protestors with teary eyes. "The government wants to wipe them out, but the people are not afraid."
Could this be the start of a burgundy revolution, another rebellion that upends a long-standing dictatorship? Back in 1988, the Burmese military unleashed a brutal assault on student protestors, leaving thousands dead. This time, the junta at first avoided direct confrontation with the demonstrating monks — after all, this is a country where the 300,000-plus clergy is second in numbers only to the 450,000-strong military. But this is not a regime given to restraint. With the monks' protests showing little sign of abating and civilians joining the movement in large numbers, Burma's top brass reverted to their old ways. On Monday Sept. 24, the nation's Religious Affairs Minister was quoted on state television ordering the monks back to their monasteries. The following morning, trucks mounted with loudspeakers patrolled Rangoon, threatening to arrest anyone who dared join the protesting clerics. The junta then announced a nighttime curfew and said they would enforce an already-present ban on any assembly of more than five people. By Wednesday, riot police and soldiers were stationed around pagodas in Rangoon, and hundreds of marchers had been detained.
Then the violence began, with at least two monks reported killed. As an eyewitness at Rangoon's best-known landmark, the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, tells it, the authorities had locked the famous monument's gates to prevent the monks from gathering. Security forces guarded the entrances. A little after noon, hundreds of monks, students and other Rangoon residents approached the police, sat on the road and began to pray. The troops responded quickly, pulling monks from the crowd and striking both clerics and ordinary citizens with canes. Several smoke bombs exploded, and the riot police charged. Some protestors fought back with sticks and rocks. A car was set alight — by the soldiers, claim the demonstrators — and then the air filled with the unmistakable crack of live ammunition. Soldiers were shooting volleys of bullets into the air. "They are not Buddhists," cried Thurein, a 24-year-old student, clutching half a brick and fleeing from the smoke. "They are not humans. Tell the world. We were praying peacefully and they beat us. They beat the monks, even the old ones." An elderly monk stood with him, bleeding from a baton gash on his shaven head.
The protesters regrouped, though, and surged forward again. Minutes later, a tear-gas canister arced through the air toward the pagoda's eastern entrance. The monks retreated, many still armed with clubs of scavenged wood, one brandishing a riot shield he had snatched from the police. Suddenly, there was an enormous explosion: a clap of thunder. The demonstrators applauded this sign of cosmic solidarity. One monk raised his hands to the heavens, shouting "The rain is coming! The soldiers will be struck by lightning!" Nearby, a woman responded, "Lightning is not enough. They deserve more." A cheer went up with each subsequent clap of thunder.
Eventually, the battle stopped. The clerics gathered at a nearby monastery to march downtown. But first came a chilling display of the people's anger — and the monks' moral influence. A man on a motorcycle rode up. Most motorcycles have been banned for years because, the story goes, the paranoid generals feared being shot by an assassin riding one of them. Those few people who can tool around on motorcycles are therefore assumed to be government spies. The mob pounced on the man, pulling him off his bike and raising their wooden sticks. "Beat him," they cried. "Kill him." Quickly, the monks intervened and hustled the man to the safety of a monastery. The crowd was forced to take out their ire on the motorbike, smashing it to bits with clubs and rocks. "If the monks had not saved him," said a Burmese cameraman filming the scene, "he would be dead for sure." In 1988, some lynchings of government agents were stopped by monks and students; far more were not.
Despite the clash at Shwedagon, the monks continued on, their fervor broadcast over loudspeakers: "Let us overthrow the government." By early afternoon, the demonstrators had marched the two miles to the Sule Pagoda, another holy site. Again, the path to the pagoda itself was blocked by hundreds of security forces, many with bayonets fixed. The protestors sat and prayed in front of them. More soldiers armed with rifles arrived, though, and most of the crowd stood up and walked away. Twenty minutes later, the troops opened fire — a 10-second burst above the heads of those marchers who had dared to stay. People fled, but not for long. Another column of ralliers, at least a mile long, wound through the streets to join them. But as dusk approached, the crowds dispersed again. Shops in the Sule area had been shuttered all afternoon. In a city where the streets are vibrant and bustling until late, most residents had taken refuge at home. No one wanted to be out after dark.
Other nations, most of whom greeted the '88 crackdown with silence, are keeping a much closer watch this time on the unfolding drama in Burma. On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council convened an emergency meeting to discuss the turmoil in the country. A day before in his address to the U.N General Assembly in New York City, U.S. President George W. Bush criticized the "reign of fear" in Burma; he unveiled further restrictions on the regime, including travel bans to the U.S. for members of the junta and their families, extending sanctions that have been in place for a decade. The same day, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband spoke of how "brilliant" it was to see monks march on Saturday to the home of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the independence hero who led Burma's struggle against the British. Suu Kyi has spent much of the past 18 years under house arrest. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won elections back in 1990, but the generals refused to honor the results. "It will be a hundred times better," said Miliband, "when she takes her rightful place as the elected leader of a free and democratic Burma."
That sentiment echoes the wishes of many in the Buddhist clergy, who through the newly formed All-Burma Monks Alliance, have called for Suu Kyi's release and, even more dramatically, the junta's expulsion "from Burmese soil forever." "We must not retreat," vows a 23-year-old monk in Rangoon. "If we retreat, we fail." Historically, Buddhist clerics have been a key element of resistance in Burma, from British colonial days through the democracy rallies in 1988. But this time, the monks are not simply adding their moral authority to the movement; they are leading the protests. The shift is significant, particularly for a junta that has tried to burnish its influence by linking itself to Buddhism. Burma's government-run newspapers regularly display generals lavishing money on building new pagodas and monasteries. "The junta has bent over backwards to show how good Buddhists they are," says Josef Silverstein, a Burma expert at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "For them to legitimize a crackdown, they will have to prove that the protests are being led by misguided monks who are actually misusing Buddhism."
Burma's generals will have a tough time convincing the public they hold more spiritual suasion than the monks. Holed up in Naypyidaw, a city that was constructed out of jungle in 2005 to replace Rangoon as the national capital, the military leaders have virtually barricaded themselves from their subjects. While ordinary Burmese get ever poorer because of the junta's economic mismanagement, the generals live in swanky mansions and drive fancy cars. The government has signed lucrative gas-pipeline and timber deals with other nations, but little of the money trickles down to ordinary people. The steep fuel hikes in August only heightened the economic disparity, as some formerly white-collar workers could no longer afford to take the bus to the office. Buddhist clerics are experiencing privation, too, since their lives depend on offerings from the people. "The monks are an economic barometer in Burma," says Sunai Phasuk, a consultant for Human Rights Watch in Bangkok. "They feel the deterioration of the economy and the hardship of their followers."
The ruling class' isolation stands in contrast to the increased connectivity of the Burmese people. Technology has revolutionized dissent. Cell phones can now be rented for $50 a month, and a click of a button sends pictures of protests to the outside world. Aung Zaw, an exiled student activist who edits the Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based publication that covers Burmese affairs, recalls how it took nearly a month for word of student protests in the early 1990s to reach Thailand. "Now we get information about protests almost instantly," he says, "and it's then sent back to people in Burma so they know what's going on across the country." The flow of information has even spawned a group of Burmese bloggers, some of whom operate out of Rangoon's 200-plus Internet cafés. (Just four years ago, there were fewer than 30 such Web cafés.) On Sept. 1, as protests against the fuel hikes were gathering momentum, 600 people showed up at the inaugural meeting of the Myanmar Bloggers Society in Rangoon. One member, a computer instructor who later witnessed Suu Kyi's Saturday meeting with the monks, uploaded a grainy digital photo she took of the momentous event. A few hours later, the picture had traveled across the globe.
Such powerful images may hearten democracy advocates worldwide, but will they persuade Burma's soldiers to disobey orders to shoot directly at the protesters? For all its economic incompetence, Burma's junta has managed to hold together the military remarkably well. Most high-level government positions are held by army officers, and lowly grunts can work their way up the ranks. Junta leader General Than Shwe, for instance, started off as a rank-and-file soldier whose psychological-warfare expertise and loyalty to predecessor Ne Win won him promotions. Still, there may be some cracks in the military's façade. "Than Shwe or senior military leaders might not care about international opinion or the feelings of the people, but some middle- and lower-ranking officers surely do," says Win Min, a Burmese military analyst based in northern Thailand. "These younger officers don't want to be hated by the people for the next 30 years."
Key to the equation may be China, Burma's largest trading partner and ideological ally. But despite calls from the West for China to use economic leverage over Burma, it's not clear how much influence Beijing really has. "China will urge Myanmar to use peaceful means to solve the problem, [because] China would like to see a stable environment in Myanmar," says Zhai Kun, an expert on Southeast Asia at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing. "But because Myanmar is a closed society, I don't think they listen to advice from the outside, including China."
That puts all the more pressure on Burma's monks, as the only force whose authority can challenge that of the military. Monks have urged the generals to avoid bloodshed by sitting down for reconciliation talks with Suu Kyi's NLD. The hope is that dialogue might lead to a power-sharing agreement that recognizes the 1990 election results. So far, the junta has pointedly ignored the 62-year-old democracy activist. Indeed, recently passed constitutional guidelines bar Suu Kyi from holding power because she lacks military experience and was married to a foreigner. But Suu Kyi clearly has the vote of some in the Buddhist clergy, as evidenced by their symbolic visit to her house. "Even if they are not political, the monks hear stories about the daily struggles of the Burmese people and the repression of the junta," says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst based in Thailand. "They feel their pain, and they cannot just sit back idly." The NLD, even with its ranks ravaged by imprisonment and exile, may be the only political alternative Burma has — and many monks know it.
Of course, no amount of Buddhist mantras chanted in Suu Kyi's name are likely to convince Burma's generals to give up power quietly. They have ruled with an iron grip, and with impunity, for nearly half a century, and have already brutally crushed one major democracy movement. With the clashes on Sept. 26, the regime once again displayed its capacity for violence. Burma's burgundy revolutionaries can only pray that their robes will not be stained further — by the color of blood.
Technorati Tags: Burma, Myanmar, Junta, Military and Protest.
Labels: Burma, Junta, Military, Myanmar, Protest
ASEAN Civil Society Conference held in Singapore in Oct
The last IMF / WB meetings saw Singapore and the IFIs blaming each other for hampering protests. This year, we see how Sydney was turned into a police state for APEC. Let's see how this turns out
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in ASEAN now have a platform to represent their views to their governments at the ASEAN Summit.
They can have their say at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2007, which will be held in Singapore from October 27-28.
The event has the endorsement of the ASEAN Secretariat.
The Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), which is organising the event, said the conference will provide the platform for CSOs to convey their views, through ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong, to leaders at the 13th ASEAN Summit in Singapore in November.
The conference is expected to focus on human rights, climate change, nuclear safety, fair trade, poverty and development and gender issues.
Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the SIIA, said: "ASEAN has often been seen as an inter-governmental organisation and (is) sometimes criticised as being limited to the ruling elites.
"We hope this conference, which aims to bring the voice of the people to ASEAN governments, will go some way to bring people and communities into the ASEAN process.
"We hope that the ASEAN Civil Society Conference 2007 will continue to grow into a platform to allow more structured participation by NGOs in ASEAN to work with the ASEAN Secretariat to give feedback to ASEAN heads of governments."
Singapore's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ASEAN Secretariat will be the approved conduit for CSOs to channel their views to the 13th ASEAN Summit.
Singapore is the current Chair of ASEAN.
Technorati Tags: ASEAN, CivilSocietyOrganisations, CSO and Singapore.
Labels: Asean, Civil Society Organisations, CSO, Singapore
Evo Morales Ayma in NY
Who: EVO MORALES AYMA
President of the Republic of Bolivia speaks on
When: Monday, September 24th at 7 p.m.
Where: Cooper Union
The Great Hall
7 East 7th Street at Third Avenue
New York, NY
On December 18, 2005, Evo Morales Ayma, leader of Bolivia’s coca growers’ unions, was elected the nation’s first indigenous president by an unprecedented 54% majority. President Morales has initiated a process of change that includes land reform, a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution, and recovery of the nation’s natural resources to benefit Bolivia’s poor and indigenous majority. President Morales will speak about these historic events and the future of Bolivia’s struggle for social justice.
We encourage you to register in advance.
Registration may be done by sending the following information to email@example.com
* Name (first & last)
* Phone Number
Tickets (free of charge) will be sent via email. We ask that you arrive at least 30 minutes in advance and bring proper I.D.
Technorati Tags: EvoMoralesAyma, Indigenous, President, Bolivia and , NewYork.
Labels: Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma, Indigenous, New York
APEC — A Pretty Empty Chatter
OLD jokes are best. If they are remembered it is because they are funny, and if they are funny, it is probably because they are at least partly true. So it was when Gareth Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, called APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation) “four adjectives in search of a noun”.
Last weekend’s APEC summit in Sydney showed that nearly 20 years after its foundation, the group has yet to decide on its noun (what it is), let alone its verb—what it actually does. The 21 Asian and Pacific leaders (including one embattled American president) who descended on Sydney required nearly $150m worth of security arrangements, including a five-kilometre-long, protester-proof fence dubbed the “great wall of Sydney”.
Press coverage centred on local disgruntlement at the disruption, on an embarrassing security breach by somebody disguised as Osama bin Laden (shown below), and on speculation as to how Australia would fulfil the tradition of a group photograph in “national dress”. (Since this quaint custom appears designed solely to make the leaders and the American president look silly, it is to be regretted that John Howard, Australia’s prime minister, rejected the idea of a swimsuit parade.)
Diplomats will tut-tut: how the press trivialises these important international gatherings! But the opposite criticism is more valid: the press took the summit too seriously. It earnestly relayed the leaders’ call for a rapid conclusion of the stalled Doha round of trade talks; and it dutifully recorded their “aspirational goal” (ie, meaningless wishful thinking) to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
There is no evidence that agreements reached at APEC serve any purpose other than providing a basis for discussion at the next summit. To report them as if they did is misleading.
But does APEC have other uses? Indeed it does in theory, but none that stands up to scrutiny. First, when Australian prime ministers pushed the idea of a pan-Pacific summit two decades ago, they wanted to ensure greater American engagement in Asia and the Pacific. Particularly after the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, there was a worry that America might neglect the region in favour of its domestic concerns and Europe.
But the world has changed. The rise of Asia—and of China in particular—is not something that any American leader can now ignore. Of course Asia’s prominence raises an array of issues, but most are bilateral or multilateral. Dealing with them (or rather, failing to deal with them) regionally is not helpful.
Second, there was a fear that Asian prickliness might lead to the growth of a strong regional grouping that excluded America: the economic “caucus” (without the Caucasians) championed by Mahathir Mohammad, a former Malaysian prime minister. But that, in the form of the “East Asian Summit” is happening anyway.
But surely, say APEC’s fans, it is at least a good thing that these leaders meet and chew the fat? At times, it can even be opportune: last year in Hanoi, the leaders issued a statement condemning North Korea’s test of a nuclear device the previous month. But that coincidence seems a pretty thin excuse for a huge international event, and the statement had no noticeable effect.
It is not just that APEC has no obvious function. It is worse than that: it actually has a pernicious effect. Its very existence creates the illusion that something is being done and so weakens other efforts to reach meaningful agreements on, for example, climate change and trade. This joke has gone on long enough.
Technorati Tags: APEC, 2007 and Sydney.
Labels: 2007, APEC, Sydney
A Peaceful Demostration for APEC 2007
Scuffles between police and protesters broke out after a smaller than predicted number of demonstrators staged a short and peaceful march in central Sydney against the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.
A massive police presence contained the largely good-natured crowd that had included families and children.
Police fears of widespread violence did not eventuate, but there was some trouble.
A police spokesman said five marchers had been arrested and two officers were injured when some trouble flared. One officer was hospitalised with unspecified head injuries. No further details were available.
About two hours after the march ended in Hyde Park, police detained another three men.
Two of the men, who were named on an APEC blacklist, were dragged away by officers, placed in a police bus but later freed.
Paddy Gibson - who had helped organise today's march - said he was in cafe in the park when he saw police grab and take away one man.
"When I started complaining and they said 'take him away as well'," he told smh.com.au.
Witnesses saw Mr Gibson grappled to the ground and then escorted from the scene. Both men were released 20 minutes later.
This afternoon lines of police were deployed on Elizabeth Street near the Sheraton on the Park Hotel, where some APEC delegates are staying. About 200 protesters remained in the park.
Organisers estimated that 10,000 people took part in this morning's march. Earlier in the week, police had ominiously predicted 20,000 might show up and warned of the danger of rioting.
Protest organisers pointed to the general good behaviour of the crowd and accused authorities of overreacting and deliberately exaggerating security concerns.
They said police had tried to browbeat demonstrators by putting hundreds of officers on the streets at huge expense to taxpayers.
"It's been an absolutely fantastic rally you should all be congratulated," Alex Bainbridge of the Stop Bush Coalition told the crowd.
As APEC leaders - including US President George Bush and Prime Minister John Howard - met at the Sydney Opera House for their summit, riot squads with shields and were deployed in some parts CBD.
The protesters gathered at Town Hall and moved slowly towards Hyde Park following a police-approved route.
Lines of police funnelled the crowd down Park Street towards the park as helicopters hovered above.
Seven buses, converted into oversized police paddy wagons, were parked in a line that blocked George Street outside the Queen Victoria Building. The recently acquired NSW Police water cannon was stationed nearby.
There was little trouble among protesters as their march took on an almost festive air.
One woman was seen being led away by officers near the QVB.
In another incident, five policemen grappled one male protester to the ground on Park Street. The man was led away by other officers as surrounding demonstrators chanted: "shame, shame".
One witness later alleged that the man had been throwing objects at some marchers in an bid to provoke trouble.
Police also led away a man who was naked except for a strategically placed sock. Across his bare chest was written: "Hey (Police Commisioner Andrew) Scipione, where's my concealed weapon?"
Many of the protesters carried placards reading: "End the occupation of Iraq", "Save the planet", "Drop Bush, not bombs" and "Put the water cannon to good use. Give Morris Iemma an enema".
Others chanted: "We are peaceful, Bush is not".
Before the rally, NSW Police Minister David Campbell said people would be free to use their democratic right to protest but officers also had a responsibility to ensure the safety of international visitors and the public.
Mr Campbell told ABC Radio organisers of the Stop Bush Coalition demonstration faced a challenge to keep the protest peaceful and not allow other groups to cause trouble.
"Of course the concern is there are other people from other organisations such as Mutiny, another group called AC/DC and a group called Resistance, who said they would come to Sydney intent on violence," Mr Campbell.
"There is concern that they might just join that demonstration and then try break out of it in some way."
The commander of the Public Order and Riot Squad , Chief Superintendent Stephen Cullen, said he feared anarchist groups would infiltrate the protest and whip it into a violent mob.
But Mr Bainbridge said police predictions of violence had been "propaganda".
"They're trying to use the talk about violence to disguise the real issues we're raising at the protest rally," he said.
Technorati Tags: APEC, Peaceful, Protest, Police and Bums.
Labels: APEC, Bums, Peaceful, Police, Protest
Howard Pleas on YouTube
To catch the bus from Canberra to APEC Protest, please call Farida on 0412 109 160.
Rest assured that peaceful protests will not lead to arrests. APEC
Australia's PM John Howard Pleas on YouTube
Technorati Tags: StopBush2007, Sydney, APEC and Protest.
Labels: APEC, Stop Bush 2007, Sydney, Town Hall
Police Blacklist to be Defied by Activists
Four of the Sydney people on the Police Security Blacklist last night challenged the list as unconstitutional, but their legal arguments were rejected by the NSW Court of Appeal, sitting in an extraordinary evening session. Despite losing the legal argument, the four men - Dan Jones, Paddy Gibson, Dan Robbins and Tim Davis-Frank - have declared they will defy the ban and participate in Saturday's anti-war march by the Stop Bush Coalition.
The lawyer for the four, Geoff Kennett, argued that the ban was an unconstitutional restriction of political communication, and that the NSW Police blacklist went beyond the powers of the NSW Parliament. The three Appeals Court justices said that the banning of a limited number of potentially dangerous people from a protest, in a limited area, for a limited amount of time, served the legitimate purpose of responsible government.
Police have recieved unprecedented powers in the APEC MEETING (POLICE POWERS) ACT 2007 of stop, search and detention, and confiscation of items from people, and the blacklist to exclude people from declared areas (a much wider area than restricted areas).
The Police Blacklist is believed to contain the names of 34 activists. On Tuesday 5 more people, who are associated with the FLARE in the void Convergence, were added to the list. "All of the people who are associated with the conference will defy the order,'' said spokesman Rishin Sing in a Herald report.
This morning Daniel Jones told the ABC "This march will go ahead. I think this is going to be a large demonstration and I think this will be a peaceful march," he said. "I think this will be a march that actually will show [Prime Minister] John Howard and [Opposition Leader] Kevin Rudd exactly who the opposition in Australia is. It is the public opinion... which will be represented on the streets of APEC."
Daniel Jones accused the Police list of being disciminatory as it lists people without criminal records and stops the their right of free speech. "This list is not a list of violent people that are threatening," he said. "If it was there would be rapists... on this list. I mean a rapist has more rights in the Sydney Central Business District at the moment than we do. We believe we are on this list for political reasons. We are planning only to have a demonstration, I mean, we've made no secret of that all long."
Back in June 2007 one of the four, Daniel Jones, was approached by Police Intelligence to spy on fellow activists and in return "arrangements" could be made about charges Mr Jones faces over his participation in G20 protests in Melbourne in November 2006. Rather than be co-opted and spy on his mates, Daniel took his story to the newspapers.
Technorati Tags: APEC, Protest, Blacklist, Activist and AgentProvocateur.
Labels: Activist, AgentProvocateur, APEC, Blacklist, Protest
Bush Slams Burma
Bush attends APEC in Sydney, obviously all of us would want to take to the streets and be heard. John Howard implements all sorts of "security equipment" tall fences, water canon and even a ban list.
Now Bush goes to Sydney and slams Burma for their crackdown on protest marches. The sheer irony.
US PRESIDENT George Bush has slammed Burma's military regime, promising to use the APEC conference to speak out against a crackdown on protest marches.
"It's inexcusable that we've got this kind of tyrannical behaviour in Asia," Mr Bush said at a press conference with Prime Minister John Howard.
Small bands of Burmese took to the streets of the capital, Rangoon, to protest at a Government hike in petrol prices. In some cases, the cost of fuel soared by five times. In response, regime-sponsored gangs beat protest leaders. So far, the military has stayed in its barracks.
The Burmese junta is sensitive to organised protests, fearing they could become a campaign for political change.
Protests in 1988 opened the way for elections two years later, won by the National League for Democracy, the party led by Nobel peace prizewinner Aung San Suu Kyi. The military refused to accept the result, keeping Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest for much of the time since.
Mr Bush yesterday said people in free societies needed to speak out against human rights abuses.
Australia has a ban on military exports to Burma and visits by senior regime figures. Last week, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Robert McClelland, called on the Government to condemn the latest crackdown.
Technorati Tags: APEC, GeorgeBush, Burma, JohnHoward and Protest.
Labels: APEC, Burma, George Bush, John Howard, Protest
APEC, Sydney and the Australian Corporate Dystopia
Dan Matthews writes about his Australia
I've been away from Australia for a while. Every time I come back, the country seems to have edged a little closer towards a corporate utopia – or dystopia, depending
on your point of view – and this week is the height of it.
I arrived at Sydney airport prepared for the customary transit ritual whereby one gets off a plane, goes through a security checkpoint, and then gets back on a plane. One is often greeted by sniffer dogs, but always by massive billboards lining the airport corridors, always advertising some financial institution or luxury product tailored to the high-end audience presumably passing through. This time there were no dogs, but the advertising was spot-on. Welcome to the APEC Australia 2007 Business Summit, it announced. Sponsored by Chevron. Ah, perfect.
* * *
APEC was essentially an invention of the Australian Labor Party, in particular of Paul Keating, who wanted to be able to promote neoliberal economic policies in the Asia Pacific region. Like the World Trade Organization and the international financial institutions, APEC was explicitly created to promote neoliberal economic policies at the international level – the same 'free trade', investor rights and freedom of capital that have decimated peoples all over the world. Unlike the WTO, APEC delivers no treaties or binding declarations, just meetings, discussions and non-binding statements. If the WTO is brazenly transparent with its quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial mechanisms, APEC is insidiously opaque with its back-door, diplomatic route to the same goal.
APEC does not have member nations or countries, but it does have 21 Member Economies. The website of the summit announces a wonderful egalitarianism to treat nations equally, according “equal respect for the views of all participants
regardless of the size of their economy” – not regardless of their size, or their population, or anything with moral value. There is Mexico, brutally repressive of the uprising in Oaxaca last year, suffering from NAFTA, debt crises, superexploitaion in the maquiladoras, the collapse of social expenditure, ruthless foreign competition, and mass urbanisation and megaslums; led by Felipe Calderon, elected last year under dubious conditions. There is Hong Kong, with an undemocratic government subservient to China, failing to observe basic human rights; led by its “Chief Executive” Donald Tsang. There is Malaysia, corrupt, authoritarian, holding
prisoners without trial, jailing bloggers. There is Thailand, still under military rule, heavily censoring the media, the internet, under martial law, repressing dissent; led by “Interim Prime Minister” Surayut Chulanon. There is the Philippines, where state security forces are accused of brutal murders of of activists, community
workers, and the media, and as a result an ally in the 'war on terror'; led by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. There is Peru, impoverished and superexploited by international capital; led by Alan Garcia, who refused to implement the National Human Rights Plan. There is Brunei, still a sultanate in the 21st century. There is Russia, engaging in brutal repression in Chechnya with impunity, clamping down on freedom of expression, disappearing and torturing. There is Indonesia, murdering and torturing in West Papua, authoritarian, prosecuting people for expressing opinions; led by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general who served under accused war criminal Wiranto in East Timor. There is China – viciously repressive, viciously capitalist, viciously industrializing and leaving the global climate in its wake. Of course there is Australia – stealer of East Timor's oil, regional US sheriff, and declining democracy. And there is the USA – world emperor, imperial invader, torturer and increasingly security state.
Even the supposedly less criminal elements cannot escape blame. Canada's troops are implicated in dozens, possibly hundreds, of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Chile, still coming to terms with years of brutal dictatorship, represses student protests and ill-treats detainees. And so on. There are no good guys. But then again, history should teach us that, at least so far, we should not expect any.
The economic policies prescribed by APEC are widely discredited and have ceased to be taken seriously by those concerned for the economic development and future of the world.
Though of course it is impossible to capture the full situation in all its complexity here, one can consider two broad sets of economic policies characterising much of the world, particularly the developing world. The first set is that promoted by APEC along with other international institutions like the WTO, World Bank and
International Monetary Fund: namely, opening markets to free trade, ending tariffs and subsidies, shrinking the public sector and public services, wholesale privatisation, and for the indebted third world, restructuring the economy as a debt repayment machine, exporting cash crops and raw materials for hard currency; while the same rules are never applied to the industralised world. Then there is a second
broad set of policies, without official sanction from the 'winners', the creditors, and those who have the power to write the rules of global economics: building a public sector to provide essential services and protect the least well off; state investment in housing and welfare, and research and development; protection of new and emerging industries until they are globally competitive; capital and foreign exchange controls; developing internal consumer markets – in general, taking the notion seriously that economics in the real world is not as simple as 'market knows best', and that state intervention and social programmes can guide social and economic development. Almost without exception, those nations which have
followed the first set of policies have suffered massive failures: suffered vast and worsening levels of poverty and inequality, suffered financial crises, and those crises have provided opportunities for creditors and international institutions to stack the tables further against them. Almost without exception, those countries which are rich or developed applied the second set of policies through most of their development.
Almost without exception, when free trade has been forced on poor nations, they have been forced to compete with rich nations whose competing industries are subidised,
protected or highly technologically developed. When poor nations are forced to restructure their economies to prioritise export industries, they are denied the opportunity to develop internal consumer markets and hence develop the demand that will pull national industries up to viability. When poor nations are opened up as cheap sources of labour for multinational corporations, working conditions
are oppressive and profits are repatriated elsewhere. The 'liberalisation' of capital and oppressive debt obligations ensure that entire national economies can be ruined by 'free' flows of transnational capital – and capital will flow speculatively and irrationally, and will flee in panic at the slightest hint of
'instability', whether from popular uprisings, military conflict, or
But these are only the broadest brush strokes of the international situation, which varies widely with local conditions, markets and institutions. It is true that there are cases where free trade has improved economic growth in some poor nations. But as we should expect from a cursory examination, such growth tends to be captured by an elite of owners, shareholders and foreigners. Repressive conditions ensure that only the minimal portion of growth goes to workers in the form of increased wages; and
the threat of capital flight ensures that conditions remain regressive and repressive. Where growth comes, it is growth for the rich, growth that comes with inequality, growth the comes with mass poverty, massive population transfers as industries are laid to waste, and the growth of vast mega-slums in major cities all around the world.
Above all, whatever mechanisms of development are possible and available, and were used by the presently rich nations, they are systematically denied to the third
world today. The third world today remains crippled by debt, forced to repay odious debts at interest, forced to accept international exploitation, prohibited from taking collective action for national economic self-defence, permitted only to resume their traditional colonial roles as exporters of raw materials, trapped in permanent impoverishment.
* * *
Even in the rich nations, pursuing this first set of policies – 'neoliberal' policies, as they have become known – has deeply disturbing effects. Even when you can win at the game internationally, turning the whole of society into a market game
has broad antisocial effects, for both obvious and subtle reasons. Australia, it seems, is just such an example of a society slipping ever more entirely into the ideal of a neoliberal society – a corporate utopia, or a social dystopia, depending on one's point of view.
What should we expect from the wholly neoliberal society? In its ideal form, there are no citizens, just consumers and workers; everything is consumption or production; everything is a market; everything is to be treated 'rationally',
applying an irrational and pathological calculus of extreme self-interest. Consumers should consume, including consuming entertainment, and meekly accept the prepackaged happiness that is offered to them in the appropriate markets. Workers should be
flexible, flexible to be hired and fired at will at the market rate, with no oppressive monopolies such as unions to distort the market. Nor should governments distort the market with such interventions as social welfare, unemployment assistance, job retraining or other indicators of minimal civilization. Workers should accept their contracts, expect no favours or assistance from the state, and
compete with their fellow workers for jobs. All of society – that is, all of the economy – should be a competition; co-operation becomes cartel behaviour. Increases in efficiency should not lead to increased wages – that is, after all, wage inflation – but such increased wealth should go towards investment and 'growth', that is, capital. There will be growth, as long as growth does not go towards
wages or towards social programmes. Wages are perhaps supposedly constrained by a minimum for nourishment and survival – but when wages are set at a market rate, with a pool of reserve labour set to drive down wages, and without any collective action possible to apply bargaining pressure, that such constraints apply is not clear.
That in the approach to corporate utopia, one can expect layoffs from businesses pitted against subsidised international competitors, layoffs from a downsized public
sector and private industries unable to compete with cheap industries, massive increases in inequality, increases in poverty, and vast inflows of wealth to a narrow elite, is empirical truism – but in a market utopia there are opportunities for everyone who is prepared to work enough and out-compete the rest. It does not matter if many, even most, are 'losers' – as long as there is the possibility of winning, we can obediently compete and play to win. We are to consider only our economic self-interest, maximising our wealth as best we can. To consider, rationally, our other interests, or even, heaven forbid, the interest of others, is 'irrational'. We should all try to be winners, not losers – the possibility of a
situation where there are no losers never arises. The philosophy permeates even supposedly non-economic activity, with our latest acquisitions and our prepackaged consumer entertainment, whether sport, movies, or celebrity gossip. There is no room for social connection, no room for political connection, no room for acting as a
human being concerned for all human beings – for that is deviant behaviour.
But this will be well-known to all those in the Western world. It is certainly dominant and mainstream in Australia.
Of course, the indicators of this descent of Australian society are manifold. They are both causes and effects of the rolling back of social democracy in the country. They are seen in economic statistics – poverty, real wages, inequality, unionisation. They are seen in upturns in xenophobia and racism. They are seen in the recent phenomenon of patriotic racist riots where young white males wrap themselves in Australian flags and bash Australians of other colours. They are seen in the language used in the dominant discourse in media and electoral politics, which is now almost exclusively the language of business. They are seen in the
fixation on interest rates in electoral politics and by citizens who respond to them. They are seen in the absence of any real political opposition, other than perhaps the Green party; not even from academia, from the labour movement, or elsewhere. And they are seen in the language of leaders, the declarations of leaders, and the substance of meetings such as the APEC summit.
* * *
APEC, like other summits elsewhere, concerns itself with the approach to corporate utopia, and the continuance of the outrages of neoliberal economic policies
throughout the Asia-Pacific region. From those who understand such policies – such as those who are on the receiving end – outrage is visceral, outrage beggars belief, we choke with rage. Massive protests erupt. The protests are of a very pure sort – for the symbols of the system congregate in one place, and the protest is
against both their individual crimes and the Idea they promote, with all its associated catastrophe.
For those who are not on the receiving end, those who can live in rich ignorance, the global elite who benefit from the policy, the view is somewhat different. An army of professional economists is deployed to justify the unjustifiable,
with theories divorced from reality, with assumptions cloaking humanity in crude materialism, with insanity masquerading as 'rationality'. The mainstream media cannot report on the effects of the policies, which are too obviously horrible, too obviously unjust, upon any more than a cursory examination – and more, undermine the
comfortable apathetic lives which are best for sales, undermine the system of exploitation which allows them and their societies to prosper, exposes the corporations which own them, and undermines the global structure of economics itself. Of course in democracies journalists are perfectly free to tell the truth – but self-censorship of the substance of international trade summits is clear to anyone reading mainstream newspapers.
Instead, the media finds a distraction. On the one hand there are photo pportunities and handshakes and press conferences, dutifully relaying the official version of events. On the other hand there are the protestors. Since the inequities of
global trade policy are never mentioned and carefully avoided, then there must be nothing to protest about, and the protestors, therefore, must not be legitimate, but violent thugs set only on causing destruction.
It is not always fully appreciated how much words construct reality. This is true in the philosophical or psychological sense that they we construct our thoughts and mental pictures through the power of words. It is also true in the concrete
physical sense that those words lead to actions which make those words come true. And the issue of violence at protests for global justice is a prime example. It is a fascinating example of a self-referential loop – but the philosophical curiosity in this case has devastating consequences.
Anyone who has ever gone to a protest of any but the most acceptable sort – that is, any protest which actually protests those with power – will know that the mainstream media coverage of the protest, and the protest itself, are barely recognisable as the same event. If there are a hundred thousand peaceful demonstrators and ten
who get in a scuffle with police, one can rest assured where the coverage will lie. If there are only peaceful demonstrators, in fact, with less than about a hundred thousand one is barely assured of any coverage at all. If the protest confronts an acceptable event involving the powerful, the event will be covered dutifully, with a
sentence or two as footnote noting the violence which marred the pleasantries. And when the violence is covered, one can rest assured that it was caused by protestors, who are accused of attacking police, even as footage rolls showing unarmed protestors being clubbed with batons. It will usually turn out that protestors are
cleared of charges; it often turns out that the police planted agents
provocateurs; unsourced allegations of protestor provocations usually turn out to be false.
In the mind of the police, one expects violence, because such protests are overwhelmingly described as violent, even if in fact they are overwhelmingly peaceful, and even if the violence is the fault of the police. In the mind of the
neutral public, protestors are violent thugs because they are always described as such in the media, without contradiction. In the mind of protestors, as a result, the mainstream media is a lost cause, essentially functioning as a propaganda organ, and cannot be trusted; and the violence, if it resonates as reality, displays the brutality of police repression. Minimal violence creates exaggerated talk of
violence, which in turn engenders violence.
And so it goes, in the lead up to a global justice protest. Well in advance, reports circulate of violent groups planning disruptions – no source usually given. Police warn the public. Police warn against violence. Police obtain new equipment
such as water cannon, clear jail cells, set up mobile prisons, obtain special powers; protest is everywhere associated with violence. Fears of terrorism are raised, conflated with the fear of protestors; indeed, draconian police powers used against protestors derive from anti-terrorism legislation. The substance of the summit is never discussed beyond approving cliches of official propaganda usage; on
the rare occasions that the subject matter is discussed, economists or other 'experts' are called in to ridicule the misguided irrational protestors; the protest is never credited with legitimacy. The unknowing public trembles in fear, at best confused, at worst grateful for the authorities' efforts; the knowing public, including protestors, knows to expect police repression. Violent words resonate
and associate with protests. Peaceful protestors are scared off. Those with a mistrust of authority have their suspicions confirmed by the obvious propaganda and demonisation, encouraging extreme actions. Violence itself becomes more legitimate, the authorities forfeiting their legitimacy. For protest organisations to declare the protest 'peaceful' becomes an act of surrender to illegitimate authority –
is it not, after all, merely a tactical choice not to confront authorities which have declared moral bankruptcy? Tactical discussions ensue; violent factions are strengthened, possibly with the help of police provocateurs; peaceful factions become just another faction. Protestors may split; they are always wary of police
infiltrators. Reactionary media reports gleefully any indication of violence, further proof of intended thuggery. Politicians rail against the disruptors of their precious events; always they affirm the right to protest but only as long as it is done peacefully; the insinuation being that the planned protests are violent, and therefore illegitimate. As the day approaches, protest groups are scrutinised for hints of violence.
Police warn they cannot guarantee public safety if the protest becomes violent. A whole aura of tension, fear, power and violence permeates both sides of the issue; and as these tense struggles proceed, the original injustice of the summit is duly forgotten. It is forgotten that the true violence is perpetrated on a global scale;
it is forgotten that the worst criminals wear suits, possess affable personalities, and have control over the authorities, effective control over the media – indeed, control over the truth. Violence becomes more likely at the protest itself; and the cycle begins anew.
It has become completely familiar to those interested in global justice and who have followed the global justice movement, and there is no difference in Sydney. The police have obtained new water cannon. The city is walled off by 5 kilometres of 2 metre high fencing, truly a triumph of democracy.
Police, using new powers, issue exclusion orders, banning specified individuals from the area, without any judicial process. Police circulate rumours of manuals published by protest groups advising violent tactics. Talkback radio is clogged with debates on the various evils of protestors. Protestors are reported to corrupt the
youth by persuading them to come and protest. Not one word of the outrageous content of the meetings. Not one word of the counter-summits and teach-ins and lectures given by activists and others who understand the situation. Fighter jets fly sorties over Sydney Harbour. Helicopters hover above. The city is shut down, essentially a post-apocalyptic militarized zone.
* * *
Shouldn't world leaders, however illegitimate, be allowed to meet and discuss international co-operation? Even if the agenda were benign – which it is not –
the leaders and their crimes would be no more legitimate. Coming to a democratic nation, illegitimate and criminal leaders should expect utter disbelief on the part of the citizenry, that matters have been able to come to this.
Illegitimate leaders should expect nothing less than the outrage of the population at their presence; illegitimate leaders promoting illegitimate policies, even more so. There is nothing to be gained from violence except greater repression and revocation of non-violent principle; but equally so, there is no reason to offer any welcome.
* * *
A congregation of criminals awaits. Several among them – including the host – could surely be charged with the crime of aggressive war, the supreme international crime,
the same crime for which the Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg. Several more could be responsible for grave war crimes and breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law. Others are real live dictators, their existence an affront to history, unthinkable in the twenty-first century.
Where are we? Is it a war crimes trial? Will they be arraigned, interrogated and prosecuted?
No, it is an international economic summit. They will be lauded, pampered, and congratulated. And they will continue to pursue policies that entrench vast global injustice, vast iniquities, and refuse to take action to avoid environmental
It is up to concerned citizens to do something about it.
Technorati Tags: APEC, Sydney, Dystopia, Arrest and AgentProvocateur.
Labels: APEC, Arrest and Agent Provocateur, Dystopia, Sydney
APEC: Police Want Court Order Against Protestors
New South Wales Police will today seek a Supreme Court order to prevent the biggest APEC protest planned for this Saturday.
Police have been in discussions with the Stop Bush Coalition for weeks over their proposed route for a protest march this Saturday.
There is a clear signal today that those negotiations have failed, with police confirming they will take the issue to the Supreme Court.
The group's leader, Alex Bainbridge, says police gave him a letter last night to say he would receive a court summons today.
Mr Bainbridge says the group is ready to take on the legal challenge.
"We have lawyers that are prepared to work with us because they also believe in the rights of the democratic protests," he said.
Police object to the proposed route because it includes the declared APEC zone of Martin Place.
In declared zones, officers have more powers to search people and move them on.
But Mr Bainbridge says it is not a restricted area and protesters should be allowed to be in the same space as the rest of the public.
"We are planning to enter the declared area, which is open to the public," he said.
"It's nowhere near the restricted area or any of the APEC venues, and what we believe is that nowhere that is open to the public should have protests banned or free speech restricted."
The Stop Bush Coalition has said it was always prepared for court action.
The group is hoping to attract up to 10,000 people to the demonstration.
Meanwhile, the Roads and Traffic Authority says there are extensive delays for northbound motorists on Sydney's Eastern Distributor because of the installation of a security fence for APEC.
Technorati Tags: APEC, Sydney, Protest and CourtOrder.
Labels: APEC, Court Order, Protest, Sydney