No. 148, Nov. 15-21, 2001


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Worldwide protest against WTO

Filipino citizens demonstrate against the WTO in Manila.

Compiled by Brendan Conley

Nov. 14— Tens of thousands of farmers, workers, students, and environmentalists protested around the world this weekend against the World Trade Organization (WTO), which held its fourth ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar.

The WTO inaugurated its conference Friday under heavy pressure from developing countries and international civil society, which are clamoring for a more equitable course in the globalization process.

After two WTO conferences that were disrupted by massive street protests staged by a broad range of non-governmental groups (Geneva in 1998 and the US city of Seattle in 1999), the ministers representing the organization’s 142 member countries found the Qatar capital to be an isolated venue that is more propitious for their trade discussions.

The trade sessions took place in Doha, a city of 600,000 people on the Persian Gulf coast that has erected a strict security system to protect the 2,641 official delegates, many of whom were jittery given the conference’s tumultuous precedents, the recent terrorist attacks in the United States, and the US-led military strikes against Afghanistan.

The armed forces and police blocked off access to the peninsula where the convention center is located. The site consisted of an area of several square miles in which only official buses could travel, carrying delegates, officials and journalists.

Only the ministers of the WTO member states moved along the deserted streets, traveling in closely guarded vehicles while war ships patrolled the surrounding sea.

This militarized atmosphere didn’t prevent actions by representatives of the limited number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who were granted visas to make the trip to Doha for the conference.

As the inaugural ceremony began, a group of activists from several NGOs, led by renowned French anti-globalization militant José Bové, gathered outside the gates to the meeting site to protest the WTO’s lack of transparency and democracy.

Although the government of Qatar allows peaceful protests, it is a monarchy that has only recently begun democratizing. Thousands of Qatari police and military personnel maintain rigid security at the meeting site and hotels to prevent any terrorist assault during the meetings.

Decrying what they called the fundamentalism of free trade, representatives of NGOs criticized the United States on Friday for seeking to equate the fight against terrorism with the fight for more open world markets. Noting that the policies pushed by Washington and the WTO have been a recipe for poverty and global inequality, Walden Bello, executive director of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based research program commented, “Trade liberalization of the unrestricted sort creates precisely those conditions ... that are a breeding ground for terrorism.”

Some activist groups called for world trade rules to put health before profits. A coalition made up of Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Third World Network said 14 million people die each year from otherwise preventable diseases.

“The death toll could be reduced if low-cost drugs were available but (current intellectual property rules) will prevent poor countries buying low-cost drugs,” they said in a statement. Greenpeace activists aboard their flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, sailed to Doha.

“The WTO came to Qatar to escape the protesters . . . you can run but you can’t hide,” said Greenpeace International political director Remi Parmentier, adding, “We’re here to voice the concerns of millions of people, so we’re not going to stay quiet. The WTO wants trade law to supersede environmental law, and we want environmental laws to be on top of trade laws.”

The WTO’s fourth ministerial conference approved on Saturday by consensus the text of the agreement for China’s entry into the organization. China will become legally a member 30 days after the WTO receives notification of the ratification of the agreement by China’s Parliament.

At press time, the conference had failed to reach agreement on a new round of multilateral trade negotiations.

Confidential documents leaked to the press showed that top US-British corporate executives met secretly with government officials to set a pro-business agenda for the current WTO talks. The entanglement of industry with government in designing pro-business changes to the WTO was reported by the BBC and CorpWatch, a US nonprofit organization.

Robert Zoellick, the US Trade Representative (USTR) who negotiated for the US in Doha, faced opposition at home as well. US-based advocacy groups filed suit against the office of the USTR in US District Court in Washington, DC on November 9, charging the agency broke the law by failing to respond to their request for documents on the government’s negotiating position in trade talks with Chile.

US and Chilean environmental and public-interest groups had sought the documents, they said, for fear that a free-trade agreement being hammered out by their governments could weaken environmental and health regulations in both countries.

Their complaint, which named Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as defendant, stated that the USTR had been required by law to comply by July 25 with their request, which had been submitted under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Qatar government restricted visas for activists from non-governmental organizations, effectively stifling much of the protest in Doha. Locked out of Qatar, protesters in 36 countries around the world marched and rallied against the WTO. Many of the demonstrations took place on Friday, November 9, a “day of action” endorsed by many labor unions and environmental organizations.

Anti-globalization protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at riot police in Geneva. Police were keeping them away from the lakeside headquarters of the World Trade Organization.

Earlier, an estimated 5,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate against the WTO, protesting that globalization put profits before people.

“Governments have taken refuge in Doha because they are afraid of the people who elected them,” said Swiss peasant leader Fernand Cuche.

In Washington, DC, social justice activists marched through the financial district carrying a 70-foot-long, 17-foot-tall, smoke-spewing dragon puppet. The march and rally were organized by Mobilization for Global Justice, a DC-based coalition of opponents of global groups such as the WTO, World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Activists with the Green Party, Free Burma Coalition and Anti-Capitalist Convergence also participated.

About 150 protesters marched in a circular route from a park near the World Bank at 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the 17th Street NW offices of US trade representative Zoellick, who was in Qatar for the WTO meetings. Outside Zoellick’s offices, speakers addressed the crowd.

About 200 protesters in Seattle marched from the Capitol Hill neighborhood to downtown on November 9 to protest the WTO talks. The action was a tiny echo of the 50,000 protesters who shut down Seattle’s downtown and WTO opening ceremonies in 1999. But activists said it was crucial to keep attention focused on WTO actions.

On Saturday afternoon activists dropped banners off of I-40 outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. The banners read, “In solidarity with the world, No to the WTO”, “WTO is the real terrorist”, and “WTO destroys communities.”

About 900 Montrealers in two demonstrations took to the streets on November 9 to protest the non-democratically imposed neoliberalization programs of the WTO and to promote equitable and environmentally sound alternatives.

Protesters, with their torsos painted with the letters WTO, shouted slogans during a rally outside the US embassy in Manila on November 9.

India saw big demonstrations as thousands marched through the center of New Delhi to protest against the WTO meeting and US-led air strikes on Afghanistan.

“Down with World Trade Organization. Indian government — leave the WTO,” the protesters shouted. “Save agriculture, stop the WTO and save us from hunger,” shouted one of its leaders.

“Down with American imperialism. Stop the bombing in Afghanistan. Take back American forces from Afghanistan,” the protesters also shouted.

About 500 protesters, including 400 from South Korean trade unions and 100 unionists from 16 countries, marched in Seoul on Friday, scuffling briefly with riot police in an otherwise peaceful protest.

WTO protesters clash with riot police in Seoul, South Korea.

“Trade liberalization and opening aggravates the gap between rich and poor worldwide and destroys the economic base of every country,” said a statement issued at the march.

In Thailand, about 1,000 protesters, mostly farmers, held a peaceful two mile march from Bangkok’s World Trade Center shopping mall to the US Embassy on Nov. 9 to condemn Washington and its leading role in the WTO. Demonstrators blocked part of an eight-lane road in central Bangkok and shouted anti-globalization and anti-US slogans on various issues — from expensive patented AIDS drugs to farm subsidy schemes. The protest was highlighted by a traditional Thai “cursing ceremony” directed at the US government where protesters burned chilies in a frying pan, filling the air with eye-stinging smoke.

About 500 Iranian workers rallied peacefully in Tehran on Friday, Nov. 9 to protest against world economic liberalization.

Around 500 people marched through central Johannesburg, South Africa on Nov. 9 to protest the WTO, the South African government’s participation in it, and the effect of WTO-enforced neoliberalism on South Africa.

Thousands of Turkish workers marched through the capital Ankara. Some 10,000 demonstrators -- workers from both the private and public sectors as well as students -- converged on Ankara’s working Sihhiye district. They called on the government to step down and accused its members of blindly following International Monetary Fund measures to resurrect the economy. “We came to bury the government in the grave!” the demonstrators shouted. They also chanted: “Down with the IMF! Independent Turkey!”

In Melbourne, Australia, a march against war, nationalism, racism, privatization, capitalism and corporate rule took place. Demonstrators carried out a “die in” in front of the immigration and defense departments, and about 100 took part in a mass “fare evasion train jump.”

Sources: Agence France Presse, Associated Press, BBC, CorpWatch, Environment News Service, Financial Times, Indymedia, IPS, IRNA, Reuters, Seattle Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, Washington Post

Kabul seized, alliance exacts ugly revenge

Compiled by Eamon Martin

Nov. 14— Two days before Afghani Northern Alliance rebels seized their country’s capitol, near an abandoned Taliban bunker, their men dragged a wounded Taliban soldier out of a ditch. As the terrified man begged for his life, the alliance soldiers pulled him to his feet.

They searched him and emptied his pockets. Then, one soldier fired two bursts from his rifle into the man’s chest. A second soldier beat the lifeless body with his rifle butt. A third repeatedly smashed a rocket-propelled grenade launcher into the man’s head.

The killing occurred minutes after Northern Alliance soldiers, advancing toward Kabul, surged deep into Taliban territory. They chose to celebrate with executions.

Ten yards away lay the body of a younger man who alliance soldiers said was a Pakistani. He was on his side with his arms extended. In the side of his head was a bullet hole.

Two hundred yards away, the soldiers who had minutes earlier shot the older man searched the possessions of a motionless Taliban soldier on the ground. After emptying his pockets, a soldier fired a burst from his rifle into the man. The soldiers moved on quickly, showing no emotion. A few minutes later, someone laid an unused mortar round across the man’s throat.

Looting was widespread. Alliance soldiers, who have received extensive backing from the United States, plundered Taliban bodies and bunkers, stealing shoes, bags of sugar, flashlights and anything else that they could find.

Two days later, the small army took over the Taliban-controlled city of Kabul. Amongst modest celebrations, most people in this long-suffering city seemed happier about the demise of the Taliban than about the arrival of their liberators. While reports from other cities abandoned by the Taliban have suggested an immediate wave of burka burning and beard shaving, there was no such initial response in Kabul. Contrary to many reports in the corporate media, there was no revelry, and most Kabulis appeared to be getting on with the simple pleasure of having a little more freedom over the way they live, while keeping their emotions in check until they can see exactly where this latest twist in Afghanistan’s war has led them.

Most tradesmen, recalling their last liberation by the Mujahidin, kept their premises closed, barred and shuttered. Fahrid, a restaurant owner, summed up the mood, saying: “It hasn’t been good under the Taliban and I’m not sorry they have gone. But at least I knew under their regime no one would burn down my business and steal everything.

“If the Alliance control their soldiers I will remember this day with joy. It’s too early to see if they really have changed from last time.”

“Last time” was 1992, when the city was liberated from the Communists only to fall victim to a free-for-all of looting and plundering before descending into merciless civil war.

But Afghani children say they have never seen anything like the high-tech US air offensive launched in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The Northern Alliance has pushed the Taliban out of most of northern Afghanistan in the past few days with the help of heavy US bombing.

“It is like they have tied our feet and our hands and are stabbing our helpless body with a knife,” said Kandahar resident Umar Jan, age 15.

Abdul Baqi’s farming family, also from Kandahar, survived more than 20 years of seemingly endless conflict. Shortly after the US air strikes began on October 7, their home was destroyed in the blast from a bombed arms depot and his two brothers were killed.

“We haven’t had war like this before,” said the bare-foot 12-year-old, one of around 2,600 Afghans living in Killi Faizo, a temporary camp set up by the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan.

But the children are dismissive of the aid from international organizations and the United Nations.

Like many of their parents, who have left everything behind in Afghanistan, the children demonize the United States. “They say they are attacking Taliban targets. But they bomb them once and us (civilians) 10 times,” said Abdul Samad, 15.

US President George W. Bush had urged the Northern Alliance not to take Kabul before a new, broad-based government could be formed. But opposition commanders were eager to advance. The Taliban have now retreated from Kabul, bringing Bush’s “war on terror” into a new phase of what most analysts agree will be a guerrilla war in Afghanistan’s southern region.

Sources: Agence France Presse, Associated Press, New York Times, Reuters, St. Petersburg Times, The Times (UK)


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