Charities threaten to boycott IMF over ban on Singapore protests

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Indy Politics

The high-profile meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were in disarray yesterday after some of the world's leading charities threatened to pull out of the event in protest at heavy-handed policing by the Singapore government.

Oxfam and at least 15 other pressure groups are furious that the authorities have banned 28 activists from entering the country and deported two others. The police have also forbidden any public protests.

The Washington-based bodies hold their annual meetings outside the US once every three years. The next, in 2009, is due to be hosted by Turkey.

Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank's president, will use a meeting with the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Hoong, today to demand that all of the 487 activists with official accreditation are let in.

Kevin Kellems, a senior adviser to Mr Wolfowitz, said the government's action was a "breach" of a formal agreement between the two bodies signed in 2003. "These individuals have been cleared by their respective home governments and should not have been excluded from our annual meetings," he said.

Several of the charities blamed the World Bank for allowing Singapore to host the event, given its record on human rights. It also warned of a repeat at the 2009 meetings in Istanbul.

Martin Powell, of the UK's World Development Movement, who was one of the 28 banned activists, said: "The World Bank and the IMF knew about Singapore's appalling record on dissent and public assembly and they ignored warnings as this is not the first time this has happened."

Max Lawson, a policy adviser at Oxfam, said it was joining 14 other bodies including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth International in pulling out of 40 public meetings. "The Singapore government should have allowed in those who were accredited," he said.

Olivia McDonald, a senior policy officer at Christian Aid, said: "I get the feeling that having it in Singapore is about the businesses and the banks and if there's not the same access for civil society groups that leaves a question mark hanging over the validity of the meetings."

The World Bank defended its decision to hold the meetings in Singapore, pointing to the memorandum of understanding signed by its deputy finance minister that committed the government to allow in anyone approved by the IMF or the Bank.