UNCTADX Bangkok protests

Protestors confront trade conference, slam globalization (12.02.2000)
UN chief slams powerful nations at global trade talks (12.02.2000)
Camdessus gets pied (14.02.2000)

back to PICIS Newsletter # 76
back to ASEM protests

Agence France Presse - February 12 7:24 PM SGT

Protestors confront trade conference, slam globalization

BANGKOK, Feb 12 (AFP) -

A thousand activists marched on a major UN trade conference on Saturday calling for radical changes to the global financial system which they say keeps much of the world locked in poverty.

Demonstrators were not deterred by a massive Thai security curtain around the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) designed to prevent a repeat of violence which marred trade talks in Seattle and Davos.

As world leaders and delegates met inside a conference centre, singing and yelling protestors carrying banners lambasting the World Bank, World Trade Organization and IMF found their route to the venue blocked by riot police.

"WTO/IMF/ADB/WB - Go to Hell" and "Struggle Against the New Imperialism" read banners hung between balloon-decked trucks carrying the protesters.

Flanked by cordons of police, several hundred Thai and foreign protestors were later allowed to approach the conference centre hosting UNCTAD and stand across the road from the venue.

Once in front of the venue, protestors slammed globalization and presented their demands to UNCTAD officials, who came out to police barriers to meet demonstrators.

"We hope organizations realize globalisation is leading the world to chaos, inequality and madness," said protestor Demoussa Dembele, leader of a non-governmental organisation coordinating committee in Senegal.

"UNCTAD is a good opportunity to rethink policies that more equally redistribute the benefits of globalisation and alter the international financial system," he said.

Among their demands demonstrators called on UNCTAD delegates to reform the world's financial system to benefit developing countries and help protect natural resources.

"We share your feelings, we have the same aspirations for developing countries to have a better life, and we want this conference to give you and your families hope," said Awni Behnam, secretary of the UN trade and development board, who received the protestors' demands.

"Your cause is our cause," he said.

Earlier, protestors gathered in a Bangkok park to coordinate their demands and plan the march, which progressed through slum districts near the conference centre.

"The Thai government always says it's democratic, but they don't allow us a real protest, showing that they're just like a dictatorship," said Virasak Sunthorncamorn, director of Labour Academy, one of the protesting groups.

Although there were brief outbreaks of pushing and shoving between demonstrators and the police, the protest was mostly peaceful. A number of protestors sang upbeat songs and laughed and joked with police.

Several times protestors sat down in front of police.

Most of the demonstrators came from Thai non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but they were joined by foreign protestors from over 40 countries and 200 textile workers who accuse the government of failing to save their struggling industry.

In a statement, Bangkok-based NGO Assembly of the Poor lambasted UNCTAD as an organization dominated by a few states.

Because UNCTAD is controlled by powerful countries and transnational corporations, it will not promote free trade and genuine development, and will exploit developing countries, the statement said.

The group also accused the Thai government of selling control over its economy to foreigners.

"The government does not protect the people's sovereignty but acts as a slave of imperialism," said the statement.

"This organization of poor people is very important, since their mobilization shows that even the most disadvantaged people can have a say in determining trade policies," said Christopher Aguiton of a French NGO.

Thai police were already on red alert after 10 Burma (Myanmar) rebels last month besieged a hospital in western Thailand and took hundreds of hostages in a 24 hour stand-off. The 10 hostage-takers were killed by security forces.


Agence France Presse - February 12 7:27 PM SGT

UN chief slams powerful nations at global trade talks

BANGKOK, Feb 12 (AFP) -

UN chief Kofi Annan attacked the world's most powerful nations at the opening of major trade talks Saturday, blaming them for scuppering last year's WTO talks and stunting the development of poor countries.

Annan said the "leading economic powers" were solely responsible for the spectacular failure of the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle, which was supposed to launch a new round of trade negotiations.

He described as a "popular myth" the belief that the talks were derailed by the violent protests which paralysed the summit's program.

"The round was not launched because governments — particularly those of the world's leading economic powers — could not agree on their priorities," he told the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Developing nations played a more "active and united role" in the Seattle talks than ever before, he said, while the industrial powers bickered among themselves and showed they did not have the will to implement reforms.

UNCTAD, which has earned a reputation as an advocate of poor nations, aims to bring developing nations into the global economic fold and calm fierce anti-trade sentiment.

But even before Annan opened the talks, 1,000 anti-globalisation protestors marched on the conference venue in central Bangkok, demanding immediate action to share the spoils of globalisation more fairly.

"WTO/IMF/ADB/WB - Go to Hell" read a banner stretched between trucks, laden with hundreds of balloons, that carried the protesters through the Thai capital before a cordon of riot police blocked their advance.

The secretary-general said the developing world remained excluded from the move towards globalisation, partly because of barriers put in place by industrialised countries.

And he called for a "Global New Deal" where the benefits of globalisation would be spread among all pro-investment countries.

"Can we not attempt on a global level what any successful industrialised country does to help its most disadvantaged or underdeveloped regions catch up," he asked.

There are already signs that the world's most powerful nations and trade bodies are responding to criticism that developing nations have been dealt a raw deal in the liberalisation process.

WTO chief Mike Moore told AFP Saturday that he was working on a package of proposals to offer poorer economies better access to lucrative markets.

"We have agreed to try and negotiate free market access for least developed countries," he said, adding that WTO ambassadors had also agreed to discuss implementation issues.

Moore said the acrimony of last year had now eased, and that WTO talks since then had made "considerable progress."

"I think confidence is back, we have been working on (the issues) — how successful we will be only time will tell."

"We are talking, we are not there yet but we are working on it," he said.

Conference organisers hope the inclusion within the UNCTAD program of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) — which have spearheaded opposition to free trade — will minimise the risk of violent disruption.

At a round-table discussion that kicked off the talks Saturday, leading economists said widening inequality among the world's rich and poor must be addressed in the interests of maximising global development.

They said that in a system where the rich make the rules, the incidence of poverty was rising and rates of development were becoming even more uneven.

Leaders of nine Southeast Asian nations will be present at the week-long conference, as well as Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.


Camdessus gets pied

IMF chief says: 'We are best friends of the poor'

Unctad Camdessus bows out with staunch defence of record in helping developing nations

Charlotte Denny in Bangkok
Monday February 14, 2000

The outgoing head of the International Monetary Fund, Michel Camdessus strongly defended his organisation's role in managing the world's poorest economies - after an anti-globalisation protest threatened to disrupt the United Nations meeting he was addressing.
In a feisty farewell speech, Mr Camdessus said poverty was the greatest menace to humanity and insisted that the IMF and the World Bank were "the best friends of the poor". But shortly before he began speaking, the French former central banker became the latest international diplomat to be cream-pied.

As Mr Camdessus prepared to deliver his key-note speech at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad), a man stepped forward from the audience and smeared the official's face with a cake. Mr Camdessus quickly removed the remains of the pie and the protester was speedily removed by security staff.

Mr Camdessus refused to press charges against Richard Reuel Naiman, 34, of Washington D.C., representing a group called Fifty Years Enough - which campaigns for the abolition of the World Bank.

The IMF is an object of hate for many activists who blame its orthodox economic prescriptions - high interest rates and budget belt-tightening for worsening the pain of countries that run into balance of payments problems and seek bailouts. Last week, one development campaigner described Mr Camdessus as a "war criminal".

At his last press conference with the IMF, Mr Camdessus made light of the latest attack, calling it "professional risks, part of my job".

Tight security from police who have closed off most of the area surrounding the conference centre has prevented a repeat of the street protests which disrupted the Seattle world trade talks last November.

Earlier in the day, some of the 300 trade unionists camped on the boundary of the exclusion zone managed to break through the police line.

Mr Camdessus suggested that the protesters outside the centre and those who disrupted the trade talks in Seattle were fundamentally misguided. "Globalisation can now be seen in a positive light, not what some have portrayed it to be - a blind malevolent force that needs to be tamed," he said.

Mr Camdessus also said that, as part of the "new paradigm", an expansion of information technology has given poor nations access to knowledge that was once the preserve of the rich. The 66-year-old suggested that the annual summit of rich nations should address mounting criticism that globalisation was benefiting rich nations at the expense of the poor. In questions after his speech, Mr Camdessus brushed over charges that the fund's handling of the Asian crisis two years ago had deepened poverty unnecessarily. He said that Thailand, the country where the crisis began, had graduated "summa cum laude" from the fund's programme for the affected economy, with industrial output back at pre-crisis levels. He said the rapid recovery in all the Asian economies vindicated the IMF's approach.

"It is very touching that he has discovered human development so late in his career," said Martin Khor, head of the Third World Network, a Malaysian think-tank. "It would be more convincing if he admitted we need this new paradigm because the old paradigm has failed."

Unctad issued a report saying that the number of least developed countries - the world's poorest nations - had risen since 1971 from 25 to 48, with 33 in Africa.

The least developed countries are "becoming increasingly marginalised in the world economy," Unctad secretary-general Carlos Fortin said. "There's no greater challenge facing the international community today than integrating the less-developed countries into the world economy and trading system."