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They accused Singapore of putting pressure on Indonesia to ban a conference in the nearby Indonesian island of Batam timed to coincide with the upcoming International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings here.
Anti-globalisation activists had planned to hold their conference and protests in Batam, less than an hour by boat from Singapore, after Singapore police refused to relax a long-standing ban on public demonstrations.
But the Batam conference now appears to have been scuttled by Indonesia and Singapore has allegedly barred a number of non-government organisation (NGO) figures from entering the city-state.
“It is very clear that the Batam officials’ position not to allow the conference was because of pressure from the Singaporean government,” said Lidy Nacpil, international coordinator for Jubilee South, a key participant in the Batam conference.
Manila-based Nacpil told AFP that until two days ago, national agencies in Jakarta and the Batam local authorities had been cooperative with the NGOs planning to hold the Batam conference.
“But in the past 24-30 hours, there was a total turnaround,” she said in a telephone interview from the Philippine capital.
There was no immediate comment from the Singapore government, which is hosting the September 19-20 IMF and World Bank meetings and related seminars that will start from early next week.
IMF external relations director Masood Ahmed and his Bank counterpart, Kevin Kellems, said in Washington on Wednesday that they were “very surprised and disappointed” by Singapore’s decision to forbid entry to several NGO members.
“Blocking entry of any of these individuals into the country, or into the annual meetings venue, would undermine engagement with civil society.”
Singapore police have said public protests would compromise tight security arrangements for the gathering, expected to attract more than 16,000 delegates.
Activist group Jubilee South counts members from 85 groups in 40 countries in the Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa.
“We are condemning them both,” said Nacpil, referring to Singapore and Indonesia.
She also did not spare the IMF and Wold Bank from criticism.
“We also should not forget that the World Bank and the IMF bear part of the responsibility because of having chosen Singapore in the first place, knowing fully well their track record as far as protests are concerned,” she added.
With their meeting in Batam banned, international NGOs will now focus on mobilising protests in key cities.
“We are currently communicating with all of our colleagues to address the latest issue — to condemn the decision and actions of the Indonesian and Singaporean governments and also to denounce the World Bank and IMF for their double standards,” Nacpil said.
A protest rally will be held against a World Bank forum on corruption in Manila next Tuesday.
Elsewhere in Asia, protests are being organised in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, among others, to complement similar plans in Washington DC and cities in Latin America.
Nacpil said a Filipino colleague, Ana Maria Nemenzo of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, had been notified she had been blacklisted.
“We think this is an embarrassment for them (Singapore). This is like the Middle Ages. What are they afraid of?” she said.
The planned activities in Batam by the NGOs, which include a concert and seminars, “are very ordinary in other countries,” she said.