Singapore puts the squeeze on protesters at IMF meet

13 Sept 06

The most jam-packed event at this year’s International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Singapore could end up being an indoor protest.

If all 487 civil rights activists registered for the annual meeting want to use the space marked off for protest, they will have to stand very, very close together.

The much talked-about protest area — Singapore’s only concession to its ban on demonstrations in the city — measures about 8 by 8 metres (26 by 26 feet).

Red and green tape neatly section off the area at the back entrance of the cavernous convention center where the meetings’ nearly 24,000 delegates will congregate.

At the official start of the meeting on Wednesday, the protest area was conspicuously empty, surrounded by officials and police.

Civil rights activists said they were shocked that the area was so small.

“At the WTO meeting in Hong Kong there was no designated area. We could march in the streets,” Lee Chen Chen of ActionAid International, an NGO that fights world poverty, told Reuters.

“What is happening here is very bad PR for Singapore,” said Lee, a Singaporean national who works in Cambodia.

To make their point, civil rights groups plan to use the square on Saturday to protest against not being allowed to protest, and will demonstrate quietly with gags over their mouths.

Police routinely deny applications for street demonstrations in Singapore. Public speeches are only allowed in designated places during election campaigning or, after registration, at an outdoor “speakers’ corner” which was fashioned after the one in London’s Hyde Park and situated next to a police post.

Orators at speakers’ corner in Singapore rarely attract a crowd.

Nonetheless, opposition politician Chee Soon Juan plans to use the venue on Saturday. Police have rejected Chee’s request for a permit to stage a protest march, which is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. and to make its way to Suntec City, according to the Web site of Chee’s Singapore Democratic Party.

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