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Protest delivered as world leaders

The Nation (24 November 1997)

Protest delivered as world leaders meet 


VANCOUVER ­ As political leaders and corporate bosses gathered for the
Asia Pacific summit on Saturday, a rag-tag group of human rights and
labour activists met with a tough message for the VIPs: stop the

''This is really about deregulating so corporations can move about freely
without any responsibilities," said Dr Walden Bello, a Philippine
professor who helped organise Vancouver's parallel ''People's Summit"
this weekend. 

''We should reverse the process of financial liberalisation. Enough of
unregulated markets! We must get back to a balance." 

Strolling among tables strewn with literature for Tibet independence,
women's rights, labour protest and aboriginal land claims, delegates to
the People's Conference could be excused for feeling a little
overshadowed by the giant, media spectacle of 18 Pacific Rim leaders at
the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum meeting just a few
miles away. 

But as Apec officials met to cope with an accelerating Asian financial
meltdown, the grassroots activists at Vancouver said the economic crisis
proved the dangers of following the free market agenda too closely. 

''We all really feel the need for some kind of regulation of
international financial flows, particularly for short-term, speculative
money," said Professor Subramanian Pillay, chairman of the finance
department at Malaysia's University of Science. 

''It makes sense, in an imperfect world, to protect your markets." 

Apec leaders on Saturday reaffirmed their commitment to trade
liberalisation, saying they would stand firm against any return to the
protectionism and isolationism of the past. 

At the Plaza of Nations conference centre, however, People's Summit
delegates said that might be exactly what the world needs ­ with a bit of
social consciousness thrown in. 

''Apec does not deal with the real issues," said John Argue, who
coordinated the summit's working group on poverty. 

''It is entirely focused on helping business to increase its own
resources and trade, and not with any social concerns." 

The alternative summit sought to redress that imbalance, holding sessions
on such issues as workers' rights, sustainable economic development, and
women's rights around the world. 

Organisers also planned to take their anti-Apec message to the street,
staging a protest march of some 1,000 people yesterday to a spot within
shouting distance of the gleaming convention centre where the world's
media is ensconced. 

One group got an early start on Saturday, staging a parade of 40 cars
bedecked with pictures of Chinese political prisoners through the streets
of downtown Vancouver. 

''Apec didn't spend a single moment discussing human rights," said Henry
Chau, chairman of the Vancouver Society in Support of the Democratic
Movement and one of the parade organisers. ''We want to tell the world
how much we are concerned with the human rights record in China." 

Apec officials on Saturday made an effort to show that they had heard the
protesters' message ­ even if they didn't agree with it. 

''As we meet here today, political leaders and business leaders alike are
under attack for allegedly promoting a heartless 'corporate agenda,"'
Thomas d'Aquino, chairman of an Apec chief executive officers'
conference, said in a speech. 

''We know that the corporate agenda does not always have smooth edges.
But of one thing we should have no doubt ­ responsible market forces are
by far the most effective catalysts for change and for the improvement of
the human condition."