World Trade Organization boss Mike Moore Wednesday insisted protestors would be free to peacefully express their opposition to globalization when ministers convene in the conservative Gulf state of Qatar.
Seeking to revive the trade liberalization drive that stalled at the Seattle fiasco, WTO members in Geneva agreed Tuesday to hold their next meeting in November in Qatar.
The Gulf state has strict laws on public assembly, sparking vehement criticism that protests would be stifled and that the WTO was running away from its detractors.
"We have every confidence that within the law, those have opposing views can put those across," the WTO director-general responded at a news conference in Tokyo after two days of talks with Japanese ministers.
"Provision is made for the NGOs (non-governmental organizations), over 1,000 rooms have been set aside, and there will be opportunities for people to put across opposing views," the former New Zealand prime minister said.
The last ministerial meeting of the 140-member WTO, in Seattle in November 1999, descended into a series of pitched battles between riot police and protestors.
The Seattle fiasco exposed profound mistrust around the world over the course of a western-dominated globalization. It has been followed by protests at nearly every major international financial gathering.
Violent clashes broke out in the central Swiss city of Davos this week after protestors were turned back after trying to reach the World Economic Forum, an elite gathering of the world's most powerful nations and financiers.
Moore said each side of the globalization debate had a right to put its view across. "Ministers have a right to meet and represent their counties. NGOs have a right to come along as well," he said. "Where I have a problem is when extremists come along and they stop governments from engaging. "This is an insult to the democratic process."
Qatar filed its application to hold the next ministerial meeting at Seattle and won out through the backing of the G77 bloc of developing nations, Moore said.
Some of the thousands of delegates, journalists and NGO campaigners expected to attend would have to be accommodated on offshore vessels given the lack of sufficient hotel capacity in the small country, the WTO boss added.
After the Geneva announcement, the Qatari authorities vowed to permit law-abiding protests. "We will not prevent anybody from entering to demonstrate on condition that the demonstrations are peaceful. We will allow them to express their views in total freedom," said Finance and Trade Minister Yussef Hussein Kamal.
But some of the most powerful US trade unions have joined human rights groups to protest the choice of Qatar as the venue, accusing the WTO of trying to escape from protestors. "Once again the cynical and arrogant WTO bureaucrats... think they can run and hide from the deep and abiding problems the WTO has created," said United Steelworkers of America president George Becker. — (AFP, Tokyo)
© Agence France Presse 2001
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