10,000 converge to take on global enemy

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The Independent Online

A cold night on a hard floor does little to raise anyone's spirits even if you are only paying £10 for a three-night stay in one of the world's most famous buildings.

A cold night on a hard floor does little to raise anyone's spirits even if you are only paying £10 for a three-night stay in one of the world's most famous buildings.

But it was not the cold that was bothering delegates for the third European Social Forum yesterday as they emerged from the Millennium Dome into the London rain. It was the principle.

"Last year in Paris we stayed for free," said Anais Llexia, who was with a group from Catalonia. "But we come to London and we are forced to pay. We thought the money was going to the forum. But now we find out it's going to the capitalists to make a casino

They are here to meet like-minded opponents of war, racism and corporate power. "We don't know exactly who, but its going to the private enterprise," said co-delegate Andreu Honzawa

John Prescott's plan to turn a part of the unloved £800m monument to new Labour into a Las Vegas-style casino was never going to chime with the 10,000 politically engaged young Europeans who had come to London. Especially as Sol Kerzner, the tycoon behind the Sun City resort in South Africa - one of the most hated symbols of apartheid - is behind the scheme. Mr Kerzner has entered into the casino deal with another scion of big business, the American billionaire Philip Anschutz, who bought the site in 2002.

The accommodation was laid on by mayor Ken Livingstone, who has set aside £480,000 of Londoners' money for the three-day conference being held at Alexandra Palace. It will culminate in a huge anti-war march on Sunday. But the organisers of the forum have already come in for criticism. Even the event's media sponsor, The Guardian, claimed registration was marred by "chaos". It said frustration had "seethed over" as 1,500 people were left to queue in the rain on Thursday.

But yesterday a giant papier-mâché devilish figure made of US dollars set the tone as thousands managed to navigate London's transport system to reach the remote outpost of Alexandra Palace.

Rivers of humanity moved at a snail's pace from lecture to lecture past hundreds of stalls promoting a plethora of causes from the international Bolshevik movement to the Vegan-Organic Network.

Multi-coloured banners, T-shirts and badges urged participants to control arms, smash capitalism, stop the war and generally change the world. Simian pictures of George Bush stared out from numerous anti-globalisation stalls while others offered everything from Che Guevara backpacks to Palestinian Kofeh scarves for sale.

Countless passionate discussions, in a cacophony of different languages, could be heard across the giant halls as Global Resistance campaigners changed and danced their way through the crowds.

With participants from across the world descending upon the north London venue, there was barely room to move as weary campaigners found corners to crouch in or joined endless queues for food vans.

A young man on a scooter offered some respite as he toured the site advertising oriental massage while other earnest youngsters pressed leaflets promoting their particular cause into the hands of anyone who passed.