Thousands of protesters confront police as ADB opens meeting

BUSABA SIVASOMBOON, Associated Press Writer - Saturday, May 6, 00

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(05-06) 01:32 PDT CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) — About 2,000 demonstrators pushed over crowd-control barriers and confronted riot police today in a protest against the Asian Development Bank, which opened its annual meeting inside a heavily guarded university conference center.

The protesters, chanting slogans against the ADB, sat at both ends of the road outside the Chiang Mai University hall and vowed to block the delegates from leaving.
Hundreds of riot police bearing clubs and shields kept a tense eye on the protesters from behind other barriers.

A group of demonstrators pushed the lines of riot police, who pushed back. About 100 students managed to scale a wall around the conference center, but were quickly surrounded and staged a sit-in.

Most of the protesters were from non-governmental organizations or had lost their land or livelihood due to ADB-funded projects. They have taken their lead from protests at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle last year and the recent World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington, D.C.

They view the Manila-based ADB as another multilateral institution that promises to help developing countries but instead reinforces the global financial order at the expense of the poor.

The protesters' leaders said they wanted to present ADB President Tadao Chino with a list of demands: that the bank stop making loans that increase the indebtedness of poor nations, end funding for a controversial wastewater treatment project near Bangkok and quit making loans to governments that disrupt the lives of small farmers and the poor.
Myoung-ho Shin, an ADB vice president, went outside and received the demands, and said they would require study.

Somchai Sirichai, 38, a representative of 38 non-governmental organizations outside the conference center, said they wanted Chino to answer the demands in detail by Sunday. Chino has refused to see them.

At their meeting, officials from the ADB, regional finance ministries and central banks gave predictions for their economies, which are expected to collectively post the world's fastest growth rates this year.

Speaking to the board of governors, Chino said clean governance was needed to reduce corruption and avoid a repeat of the economic crisis that devastated Asia in 1997 and 1998.
“Asia must not revert to business as usual, taking the crisis as simply a short-term aberration,” he said. “The weaknesses in the corporate and financial sectors and in governance structures that were revealed during the crisis need to be speedily addressed.”
On the sidelines, Thailand and some other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations lobbied to move toward an Asian monetary fund that would act as a lender of last resort to regional governments in times of crisis.

Thailand wants Japan, China and South Korea to join the 10 ASEAN members in a plan under which each country would hold reserves in the others' currencies and come to the rescue in case of speculative attack.

Japan proposed creating an Asian monetary fund at the outbreak of the crisis, but the idea was shot down by the United States, which preferred to let the Washington-based IMF deal with it.

Some Asian leaders felt the IMF was serving Washington's economic interests, not theirs, and the organization itself has admitted mistakes in diagnosing the reasons for the meltdown and in some of the remedies prescribed.

Thai officials have been careful to say that any regional fund would complement, not compete, with the IMF and World Bank.

2000 Associated Press

ADB Thailand - May 2000| Actions 2000 |