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Alternative agenda discussed


      Alternative agenda

      KUALA LUMPUR -- As governments
      across Asia and the Pacific prepare for
      their leaders' economic summit here next
      week, about 700 representatives of people
      forums from 25 countries are intensively
      discussing urgent political, economic and
      social agendas which they want the Asia
      Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) to
      seriously take up. 

      The Asia Pacific Peoples' Assembly, which
      is addressing 13 different issues ranging
      from human rights and democracy, to
      labour and migrant workers, from urban
      poverty to indigenous peoples, from
      education and environment, to women and
      children, is taking place against the
      backdrop of Malaysia's ongoing and
      controversial trial of ousted deputy prime
      minister Anwar Ibrahim. 

      The opening event Tuesday at a small
      downtown hotel saw a packed hall of
      participants who gathered to hear
      speeches made by several prominent
      social and political activists, including Irene
      Fernandez, a Malaysian woman activist
      who was charged for criticising the official
      ill-treatment of migrant workers, and
      Indonesian academic and social critic of
      the military regime, Arief Budiman. 

      But the highlight of the inauguration
      ceremony was the arrival of Anwar's wife Dr
      Wan Azizah Wan Ismail who delivered a
      brief statement, thanking Malaysians and
      the world for supporting her husband and

      She urged Malaysians not to drown in
      depression following Anwar's controversial
      arrest on 10 counts of alleged corruption
      and sexual misconduct, but to carry forward
      his torch of political reforms. 

      She said she was very happy that her
      husband was now receiving so much
      support, much more than when he was
      deputy prime minister. Wan Azizah said
      that she was also proud that people across
      the globe have voiced concern for justice
      for Anwar. She urged Malaysians of all
      political and religious hues to stand up and
      revive the old, beautiful Malaysia. 

      She added: ''There are still people out
      there, people -- common Malaysians
      across the board of religion, across the
      board of political parties -- who want to
      come forward and I thank you. I thank you
      and I want you to come in and join us,
      support us and bring back our beautiful

      Despite the uncertain fate awaiting her
      husband, Wan Azizah, who was
      accompanied by her eldest daughter, was
      in cheerful spirits. At one time, she even
      cracked jokes about Malaysian prime
      ministers, including the incumbent Mahathir
      Mohamad, saying in jest that she hoped her
      remarks would not lead to her arrest. 

      Her message drew loud applause and a
      chorus chanting of the ''reformasi'' slogan,
      in a sign of support for Anwar's attempts to
      push for political reforms. 

      As Malaysian authorities have banned
      anti-government political gatherings and
      threatened to hit protesters with draconian
      laws, including the 1960 Internal Security
      Act, organisers of the Peoples' Assembly
      were evidently trying not to allow any room
      or pretext for official action against what the
      government could claim as ''illegal

      Participants were to wear name tags that
      clearly identified their organisations and
      their participatory sessions, while
      volunteers manned entrances to the plenary
      hall and other working rooms. According to
      one leading Malaysian activist, organisers
      had tried to by-pass the need for a ''police
      permit'' for public conferences by arranging
      the Assembly as a ''private meeting'' thus
      participants were required to properly
      register and to put on a name badge. 

      She said organisers were well aware that
      Malaysian authorities might do what they
      did two years ago with the East Timor
      conference -- move in to stop the meetings
      and arrest those involved -- and have
      worked out a contingency plan in case of
      such an eventuality. 

      At a press conference before the opening
      ceremony, leading organisers Irene
      Fernandez, Syed Shahir Syed Mohamud, a
      labour union leader, and Dr Syed Husin Ali,
      president of the opposition party Parti
      Rakyat Malaysia and a former ISA political
      inmate, said the Peoples' Assembly would
      discuss 13 pressing political, economic
      and social issues confronting the people
      and their communities and find out ways to
      resolve them. 

      Resolutions from the gathering will be
      forwarded to the summit meeting of the
      21-member Apec. When asked to assess
      their previous attempts to draw Apec
      leaders to address the peoples' agendas,
      Irene and Syed Shahir said the success of
      the Peoples' Assembly, which has been
      held alongside Apec summits, can be
      judged through the increase in the number
      of people and organisations taking part in
      the forum, and the increasing public
      awareness of different issues confronting
      them in their everyday lives. 

      The organisers urged Apec leaders not to
      concentrate only on trade and economic
      liberalisation or the financial turmoil
      gripping the region, which, they, said was a
      result of globalisation but to take up
      peoples' social needs. 


      The Nation