The World Social Forum, billed as a counterweight to the World Economic Forum of business and political leaders which opens on Wednesday in Switzerland, is holding discussions and demonstrations on issues from Iraq to child labour.
But the common thread for the diverse set of activists is opposition to US President George Bush, who forum leaders accuse of endangering world security and bending trade rules to satisfy corporations.
The World Social Forum was launched in 2001 in Porto Alegre,
Brazil, to build on the occasionally violent protests during World Trade Organisation negotiations in 1999 in Seattle.
Hoping to expand outside its support bases in Western Europe and Latin America, the anti-globalisation movement switched the venue to Bombay, where the event was organised mostly by Indian trade unionists and environmentalists.
“The greatest threat to the world is from the US and its President Bush. If Bush comes to power again in 2004, the world would see another war in the Korean peninsula” .
Keun Soo Hong,
Organisers said more than half of the estimated 100,000 people at the forum were from India, even though the meeting has received little attention from the country’s government and media.
Thousands of low-caste Indian Hindus rubbed elbows with Western labour activists, Latin American students and Tibetan monks, as dozens of groups staged impromptu concerts and theatre to push their causes during the six-day meeting.
Hoping to stress a common cause against Bush, forum organisers showcased civil society leaders from all continents.
“The greatest threat to the world is from the US and its President Bush,” said Keun Soo Hong, a prominent South Korean pacifist.
“If Bush comes to power again in 2004, the world would see another war in the Korean peninsula,” Keun said.
Threat in Latin America
Argentinian activist Beverley Keene warned the United
States also posed a threat in Latin America, where she said there was “another war, of hunger and misery”.
Referring to Bush, corporations and international lending
agencies, Keene said: “They control the power in our world. This is real terrorism.”
“Bush, corporations and international lending
Despite the staunch criticism of Bush throughout the forum, organisers said 1000 Americans were taking part and that funds from US individuals and groups covered about one quarter of the $2.4 million budget.
Critics, including some from within the anti-globalisation movement, charge that the World Social Forum amounts to more talk than concrete action.
The last meeting in Brazil turned into a rallying ground for protests against an invasion of Iraq which was launched just over two months later.
Iranian rights activist Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace laureate who helped inaugurate the forum, said Iraq was “one of the most important” issues facing the world, but stressed the Bombay meeting should also seek to ensure universal protection of human rights.