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Alternative World Social Forum Opens with Peace March
Published on Friday, February 1, 2002 by Agence France Presse
Alternative World Social Forum Opens with Peace March
 
Representing a myriad of social movements worldwide, tens of thousands of activists opened their alternative to the World Economic Forum in New York with a massive peace march.

Local police commander Ilson Pinto de Oliveira estimated as many as 30,000 people joined the march to open the World Social Forum, a crowd slightly smaller than the 40,000 people expected by organizers.

The six-day conference is to feature 700 workshops, 100 seminars and 28 plenary assemblies of more than 13,000 delegates for the 50,000 participants from 150 countries who are gathered at the sprawling complex of Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul.

"The importance of this forum is not simply a matter of how many people participate, but the enormous number of important topics to be discussed here," said Brazilian Workers' Party leader and presidential hopeful Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva.

While participants at the World Economic Forum discuss "how to accumulate wealth," the World Social Forum will focus on "how to better distribute it," he said.

Security for the gathering of 3,000 world economic and business leaders "was so expensive, a small Swiss town could not afford it," da Silva said, alluding to the forum's change of venue this year from Davos, Switzerland, to New York.

The conference in Porto Alegre, by contrast, is marked by plurality and openness, he said.

Among session topics at the Brazilian forum are the problem of debt in southern hemisphere countries, corporate taxation, cultural diversity, water as a public commodity, food securityand the role of women in globalization.

"Our objective is to discuss how humans can live with dignity," da Silva said.

Among the accredited participants in the forum are two members of Batasuna, known as the political wing of the Basque separatist group ETA, they told AFP, despite efforts by organizers to not admit delegates with links to armed militias.

But World Bank president James Wolfensohn, who asked to be included among speakers at the forum, has been denied entry, as the principles the World Bank defends are incompatible with those of the forum, said Sergio Haddad of the Brazilian Association of Non-Governmental Organizations.

Wolfensohn was told he could be included as a member of the audience, but organizers cautioned against it as "it would not be advisable" in an environment where the "atmosphere would not be favorable," Haddad said.

Thursday began with an opening salvo by the disenfranchised, when a group of 300 homeless families occupied a 14-story abandoned building owned by Sul American insurance in downtown Porto Alegre.

"We want to protest the lack of public policy for housing, the lack of real urban reform," said Juliana Gonzales, director of the National Movement for the Struggle for Housing, using the neglected building filled with dead birds and excrement and draped with the group's red flags as a symbol of neglect.

Meanwhile thousands of young people made camp in a park adjacent to the state capital buildings. Organizers said 10,000 people from 52 countries had signed up to use the free facilities there.

"We believe another world is possible and we are here to make our contribution," said Angela de Avila, 16, seeking a place to pitch her tent after arriving onsite.

Copyright © 2002 AFP

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