No. 87, Sept 14-20, 2000

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Protesters disrupt economic forum

Melbourne, Australia, Sept. 13— It can only be described as the latest incident in a rapidly growing groundswell of international opposition to corporate globalization and unaccountable political authority.
On Monday, ten thousand people blockaded all entrances of the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Crown Towers venue, forcing Victorian leader, Denis Napthine to concede that “protesters have unfortunately won the first round.” Hundreds of conference delegates have been prevented from entering the forum with many already having endured spectacular confrontations. The meetings, still attempting to convene as of this writing, were to be held over the course of three days. The WEF is a major international economic conference organized to bring together business and government leaders to discuss the global economy. This is a discussion in which its critics —who identify themselves as representing the majority of the world’s populace who are most impacted by decisions made at these elite gatherings— contend that they are being ignored or manipulated to the advantage of international financiers and their political counterparts holding public offices. On Wednesday morning, meeting difficulties persist, with legal reports of rampant and brutal police misconduct continuing to surface.

Protesters poured into the streets surrounding the site of the WEF’s Asia-Pacific summit at 6am, Monday morning, some having even slept at the site overnight. Despite Antarctic weather conditions, over 5,000 people had gathered by 8:30 am.

The forum started late because delegates could not get in, and when it did start, 300-400 delegates (of around 1,000 said to be attending) were locked out by the blockade. Most of them, as well as a number of journalists, were unable to get in for the rest of the day. They were kept out of the summit by protesters with arms linked as police stood by, apparently powerless to help. Some of the delegates managed to get to the conference only after being ferried by boat or helicopter hours late into the casino complex, on the Yarra River’s Southbank. Two busloads of dignitaries drove around the entire complex for six hours, repeatedly attempting to breach protester lines.

The entire perimeter of Crown Casino had been surrounded by an eight foot wall of concrete and webbed steel. The only gaps in the wall were the entrances. Here there were hundreds of cops (over 2,000 in total had been mobilized for the front line defense of the WEF, with more in reserve) at the ready with their batons. This was a high-level security operation unusual for Australia where so-called “violent” protests are infrequent.

However, in a highly organized deployment of their own forces, all entrances to the Crown site maintained strong blockade contingents of protesters. Witnesses said that overall, the blockades had been remarkably peaceful and the protesters remained determined and disciplined. A carnival atmosphere held sway at the blockade sites, with a colorful array of costumes and contingents covering all points of the left and progressive political spectrum. Some protest organizers dubbed the demonstration as the “Festival of the Oppressed.”

Media accounts have varied, but most estimate that about half of the delegates were prevented from entering the Crown Towers complex and that many of the speeches were delivered to half-empty halls. The more sensationalist Australian media outlets, such as Rupert Murdoch’s Herald-Sun, have nonetheless characterized the protests as “violent.” But the only violence has come from police, according to legal observer Pauline Spencer, whose team has catalogued multiple instances of seriously abusive behavior by officers.

But nothing could quell the euphoria of the blockaders.

“We’re here to declare victory,” the S11 Alliance’s David Glanz told a media conference this afternoon. The alliance was the largest umbrella organization of demonstrators orchestrating much of the protests. “We have delivered exactly what we promised. We promised more than 10,000 people here and we delivered -and the protests have been peaceful, they’ve been determined bu tpeople have had fun too.”
Alliance media spokesperson Jorge Jorquera told Green Left Weekly, “these people have made history here today,” he said. “They’ve cut through the tissue of lies that this protest was going to become a riot. They’ve been totally committed to non-violent blockading but also just as committed to doing it properly, in an organized and effective fashion.

They’ve been diverse and united and strong.”

Demonstrators achieved at least one major success in persuading Australian Treasurer Peter Costello, a conference delegate, of the need to heed public opinion on globalization.

“If policy makers think that they can ignore public opinion, I think we would be making a rather large mistake,” he said.

“We can talk about the benefits of an open trading system, but let’s remember that the last opportunity to put some detail on that was in Seattle and it was a failure.”

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Melbourne unionists delivered a stunning blow to the legitimacy of the World Economic Forum and corporate globalization, filling city streets with noise, color and people.

The workers have rebuffed WEF attempts to paint the protesters as “violent” by marching directly to the blockade’s main base on Queensbridge Road from Trades Hall in Carlton.

The marchers filled Swanston Street in downtown Melbourne, marching past a Nike superstore chanting “Stop global sweatshops.”

Fearing it would be targeted by protests similar to those that shut down last year’s World Trade Organization talks in Seattle, Nike closed its flagship Melbourne store Sunday and boarded up the windows.

The S11 Alliance had agreed to allow Trades Hall use of its stage for a platform, which featured some of the Australian union movement’s most prominent leaders, including the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia’s Michelle O’Neill, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s John Maitland and ACTU president Sharan Burrow.

Indonesian union leader Romawaty Sinaga, the international officer of the FNPBI union coalition, received an especially warm reception while speaking from a platform. “We want Australian workers to support Indonesian workers. We need your solidarity. We all, workers in Australia and workers in Indonesia, have common interests in stopping these people,” she said angrily, pointing at the conference venue across the road.

Several thousand unionists marched around the casino before joining the blockaders at different entrances. Later, that afternoon, the police attacked.

Brutal police attack

On Tuesday evening, September 12, lawyers and members of the activists’ legal support team were shocked and outraged by brutal police assaults on protesters outside of the casino. Witness statements and observations by the legal support team documented the following account of the police brutality, including the use of potentially lethal force.

Without warning or any attempt at negotiation, police attacked a peaceful blockade outside of the casino. Police charged through and over the protests wielding long PR-24 side handled batons, striking protesters over the head and body. Protesters were kicked, punched and dragged behind police lines. Protesters trapped between lines of police horses and the casino fence were beaten and prodded through the fence with batons.

One man was beaten by police, while lying prone, and possibly unconsciousness, behind police lines. He was subsequently taken to a hospital by ambulance with suspected spinal injuries. Over 30 people were taken by ambulance or had to go to a hospital for treatment. Several protesters have serious injuries, predominately to the head and neck. Some remain hospitalized.

Earlier in the day the legal support team had called on the Victorian Ombudsman to investigate police actions at the protest.

Damien Lawson said today, “The Victorian Ombudsman must intervene as a matter of urgency to prevent further unlawful action by the police and serious injuries to members of the public exercising their right to protest. If protesters have breached the law they can be dealt with by the courts, rather police have acted as judge and jury circumventing the justice system by meting out their own arbitrary brutal and dangerous punishment.”

Legal observer Pauline Spencer commented, “we had Victoria Police just storming with batons, thrashing people about the head ... breaking ribs, breaking hands.” She added that batons had been thrust into stomachs, breasts and genitals and some demonstrators had been dragged away by their hair.

In the repressive police responses to popular protests such as these, many activists are beginning to casually expect them as common protest hazards and they are not deterred. So far, if anything, a collective feeling of growing empowerment seems to be at hand. “Victory” in Melbourne has clearly nourished this shared sentiment of international solidarity and resistance.

Senator Bob Brown of the Australian Green party said the Greens were in attendance to oppose the growth of a new aristocracy among multinational corporate bodies who are becoming a de-facto, undemocratic world government. “We’re also concerned about the impoverished people of the world not having a voice,” he said. His concerns were echoed by protesters at Treasury Gardens, many of whom wore pins with the words, “Smash corporate tyranny.”

The WEF has been severely disrupted - a bit of a bummer for the delegates, some of whom were paying $22,000 per night for the privilege of staying at the Crown Casino.

Source: Indymedia, Reuters, Agence France Press, Green Left Weekly, Associated Press

Chileans march in coup anniversary

By Eva Vergara

Santiago, Chile, Sept. 11— Thousands of Chileans marched in a downpour Sunday to recall the 27th anniversary of the bloody coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, demanding the former dictator be brought to trial.

Amid a heavy police presence, demonstrators walked 2½ miles from downtown Santiago to the cemetery where Salvador Allende, the Marxist president who died during the coup against him, lies buried.

Cold and a steady rain did not dampen the spirits of the leftists, human rights activists and families of those who died during Pinochet’s dictatorship, many of whom carried banners demanding his prosecution. Police said between 4,000 and 5,000 people took part in the march.

The way was opened this summer to the possibility of a Pinochet trial — something long viewed as inconceivable — when the general was stripped of the immunity from prosecution that he enjoyed as a senator for life. The Supreme Court announced in August that it upheld a lower court decision to end the immunity.

An official report after Pinochet left power in 1990 said 3,197 people died or disappeared under his right-wing military regime.

Allende died on Sept. 11, 1973 in the coup. Pinochet took power and ruled for more than 16 years.

On Sunday, socialists gathered on the side of the presidential palace at the exact site where Allende’s body was found 27 years ago.

Source: Associated Press


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