Singapore activists end protest as PM delivers speech at IMF-World Bank meeting

Associated Press
19 Sep 06

Activists ended a three-day protest against the government on Tuesday, saying they had highlighted restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly as Singapore hosts the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The Singaporean activists, who have numbered between six and 10, had camped out at a downtown park since Saturday, in defiance of laws that ban outdoor gatherings of more than four people without a police permit. Public protests are rare in Singapore.

Police had prevented them from marching to Parliament and the convention center where the IMF and World Bank were holding meetings. On Tuesday, the small group twice started to march in the direction of Parliament House, but were blocked by a row of police officers.

“The world now knows the extent of the repression in Singapore, and hopefully this will translate into pressure on the Singapore government to reform the system,” said protest leader Chee Soon Juan, head of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. “Our movement, our campaign for democracy, will grow and gain momentum and strength.”

Singapore says its political system has democratic features, including elections, but that it does not seek a freewheeling, Western-style democracy that could foment tension and even chaos. Authorities tightly restrict speech and assembly, saying such controls provide the stability that has helped turn Singapore into a global economic powerhouse.

As host of the IMF-World Bank meetings, Singapore has sought to showcase itself to thousands of international visitors as a model of clean and efficient governance with a prosperous, open economy.

Chee’s protest drew less local and international attention than Singapore’s decision last week to bar two dozen foreign activists from entering the country to attend the meetings even though they were accredited. Singapore later reversed the decision after criticism from the IMF and the World Bank.

The end of Chee’s protest coincided with a speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the IMF and World Bank meetings. Lee said carefully managed globalization can improve the lives of the world’s population, and that good governance and effective multilateral institutions were vital to its welfare.