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Thousands to Protest at Racism Conference: Activists
Published on Thursday, August 2, 2001 by Agence France Presse
Thousands to Protest at Racism Conference: Activists
 
JOHANNESBURG - Thousands of activists from around the world will demonstrate at a UN-sponsored conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, at the end of this month, protest organizers said Thursday.

"But we don't want another Genoa -- the protests will be peaceful," said Nazeem Jeenah, of South Africa's National Consultative Forum on Palestine, referring to battles between police and demonstrators at a G8 summit in that Italian city last month.

"We do not expect any trouble. We are planning the protests in such a way that we can maintain discipline," he told AFP.

Jeenah said at least 20,000 South Africans would take part in a march on August 31 as South African President Thabo Mbeki opened the conference, and that he expected many of the 10,000 to 12,000 delegates attending a parallel meeting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to join in.

Mark Weinberg of the South African Non-Governmental Coalition agreed.

"We expect around 20,000 South Africans to take part -- and that's a very conservative estimate," he told AFP, adding that he too expected several thousand of the NGO representatives to join the march.

The South African protesters represent such diverse groups as the landless, those against the privatization of state companies, and AIDS activists.

Mark Heywood, spokesman for AIDS campaigners the Treatment Action Campaign, said its local branch would be taking part.

He agreed there was a potential for "quite a large number of people" to take part in protests, depending on the issue, but added: "At this point it's not very easy to say."

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, with 1.7 million members, is planning a separate march at the week-long UN conference, which organizers say will be attended by around 12,000 delegates, including at least 30 heads of state.

Jeenah said the activists wanted to see reparations for slavery and Zionism on the agenda -- two topics which have provoked threats of a US boycott -- along with Indian untouchables, Third World debt, the situation of indigenous peoples, AIDS, social services and landlessness.

"We were expecting that the United States would take this position on Zionism but we are very disappointed that the South African government has not taken a clearer stance on this issue," he said.

"There is no issue -- Zionism is racism and Israel is an apartheid state.

"What the Palestinian people are suffering is very similar to what happened under apartheid and the government had very close ties with the Palestinian liberation movement, hence we had hoped that South Africa would take a strong position."

Jeenah said the protests would last the whole week, with a different topic highlighted each day.

"A lot of different constituencies are taking part so that everybody's voice will be heard," he said.

"The protesters have also agreed to share the same agenda, to support each others' causes, so on every day after that (opening day) we are expecting at least 10,000 to 15,000 people to take part."

South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma meanwhile said Thursday that preparations for the conference were on track.

"We think from our side things are really on momentum," she said in Pretoria at the launch of a postage stamp to mark the conference, adding that the US boycott threats gave no reason for panic.

"Racism by its very nature will mean that people will have different experiences and outlooks, so it will be a miracle if we assume that people will think alike," she said.

"What is important is that at the end of the conference we arrive at some common ground and come up with a document ... to deal with the scourge of racism."

Copyright © 2001 AFP

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