The forums, which began in Brazil’s Porto Alegre in 2001, are a hothouse cultivating dissent, debate and links between activists across the continents. They also allow people to develop ideas outside of conventional party political structures.

“I’m here because I believe another way of thinking is possible,” said Maria, a 27-year-old Greek law student. “The values I believe in have no party; they are universal.”

"I’m here because I believe another way of thinking is possible. The values I believe in have no party; they are universal"

Maria, 27
Greek law student

Maria said she was concerned for the lives of five arrested anti-globalisation protestors in her home town of Thessaloniki who have just begun refusing liquids after five weeks of a hunger strike. But she had travelled to Paris for the debates on migrants’ rights.

Third World needs

“The most important issue for me is that people learn to consider the needs of the third world,” she said. “People have to realise that we are all strangers outside our countries, and no-one chooses to leave their home without a very good reason.”

Humanitarian concerns were high on the agenda as fireworks, music and an explosive burst of samba drumming opened proceedings at the futuristic La Villette conference centre in northern Paris.

Similar fanfares were the order of the day at Bobigny, St Denis and Ivry-sur-Seine, the other conference sites that spill across the city’s vast northern suburbs, posing logistical problems for those attending.

Mood of optimism

While organisers’ predictions that to 60,000 people from 100 different countries would attend were not borne out by the colourfully bedecked crowds milling around La Villette, the mood among those there was one of optimism.

“This is such a great opportunity to meet other people from different countries. The only problem is that there is so little time to do everything I want to do,” enthused Alicia, 24, who had travelled to the Forum from Valencia in Spain.

"It’s fantastic to learn about other European social movements and political groups. Everyone here is open to new ideas"

Carl Berquist, 23
Stockholm restaurant worker

Carl Berquist, a 23-year-old restaurant worker from Stockholm ventured that he was most inspired by the educational side of the gathering. “It’s fantastic to learn about other European social movements and political groups,” he said. “Everyone here is open to new ideas.”

Develop alternatives

Out of the four-day carnival of meetings, workshops and cultural events, delegates hope to develop alternatives to the neo-liberal economic model, and new proposals for a progressive Europe.

There is also talk of creating a loose organisational framework to unite the massively diverse anti-capitalist movement.  

On Saturday, up to 250,000 activists are expected to take part in a demonstration to close the Forum and put down a marker for the mobilisations expected to eclipse President Bush’s visit to Britain four days later.