Singapore police bar World Bank poverty protesters

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The Independent Online

The World Bank is accused of colluding with an "authoritarian" regime after scores of poverty campaigners were detained, interrogated or deported by police as they tried to get the financial institution's annual meetings.

Leaders of bodies such as Action Aid condemned the bank's decision to continue the meetings despite what they called a "blatant violation" of their rights.

The Singapore authorities have deported an activist who had been accredited by the Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which is also holding its meetings in the Asian city-state.

Action Aid International named her as Maria Clare Soares, the Brazilian representative, of ActionAid Americas. So far, 28 members of campaign bodies have been barred from entering Singapore.

Iara Pietrocovsky, an academic and a representative of the Brazilian Networking of Integration of Peoples, was let in the country after being detained for several hours.

She said: "We were interrogated about our intentions and if we intended to participate in any protests. The policemen were polite but didn't explain why we were detained."

Sandra Krawitz, a media officer at ActionAid USA, said she had a catalogue of incidents where accredited activists had been detained and repeatedly interrogated. "It is just mind-boggling that we should be treated this way," she said. "People are being treated as common thugs. That's not acceptable." She accused Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank, of "paying lip service" to freedom of speech. "He does have the power to say enough is enough and stop the meetings and to say something more loudly and make sure people are treated as professionals," she said. "The World Bank, Singapore and the International Monetary Fund need to apologise. We need Singapore to come its senses and open their arms to people who are trying to serve the poorest people in the world."

Another activist, Roberto Bissio, of Social Watch, used a meeting between campaign groups of Wolfowitz to accuse the president of giving in to the Singapore government. He said five people had been deported and others had been barred. "People who have been accreditation, their accreditation has been withdrawn," he said.

"Under these conditions, how can we talk about good governance when the basic rules of the host country are being so blatantly violated. The integrity of these meetings is in question. How many NGOs have to be deported? What does it take?"

Mr Wolfowitz said he shared their concerns and said he had raised his concerns at meetings with the President and Prime Minister of Singapore. "Enormous damage has been done and a lot of damage to Singapore is self-inflicted," he said. "They could have been a showcase to the world of development and I do ask whether it has to be so authoritarian."

Mr Bissio pressed him to postpone the meetings in protests but Mr Wolfowitz said: "I don't think that's feasible otherwise I would consider it."

Between 30 and 40 activists, who said they were members of the Global Campaign for Action Against Poverty, walked out of the meeting in protest.

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