Peking fails to make room for women activists

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Thousands of delegates to the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Forum in China next month will be unable to take part in meetings owing to lack of space, the Chinese organisers admitted yesterday. To ease overcrowding, sightseeing tours will be arranged.

Officials from the China Organising Committee (COC) for the UN World Conference on Women said indoor meeting rooms and tents would provide 160 meeting places, accommodating 10,000 people at any one time. Almost 35,000 NGO delegates have applied to attend the Forum, run in parallel with the official governmental UN conference in Peking. The NGO Forum, opening on 30 August, will be held in Huairou, an hour's drive from Peking.

Wan Siquan, the deputy secretary-general of COC, said yesterday that the number of delegates applying to come had exceeded the number expected.

"If [the 35,000] do come, then a large number will not be able to participate in meetings of the NGO Forum because of the limited accommodation of the meeting rooms," he said.

Asked where NGO representatives would go if they could not fit into the meeting areas, Mr Wan said: "We have designated several places for visits and tours." Original estimates by the international NGO Forum organisers had been for about 20,000 foreign delegates.

China's announcement in April that it was moving the NGO Forum from its original central Peking site to Huairou prompted an outcry that China was trying to segregate the NGOs. Since then, Peking has poured money into building work in Huairou to provide facilities. Dr Gertrude Mongella, secretary-general of the official UN conference, said earlier this month that the facilities were "excellent".

Asked where the NGOs would hold plenary sessions, Mr Wan said the biggest meeting room can hold 2,000. "We have decided that a playground between the meeting rooms will be made use of for activities during daytime, and for various cultural shows at night," he added.

This "playground" is an old running track on which the organisers plan to erect a stadium, although this open-air venue can only accommodate 10,000.

Mr Wan confirmed there was only enough hotel and apartment space for 10,000 NGO Forum delegates in Huairou. The others are expected to stay in Peking and use shuttle buses to reach Huairou.