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Swiss welcome three-stage World Social Forum

Tens of thousands of people are expected to turn up in Caracas Keystone

Swiss delegates at the World Social Forum (WSF) have hailed a decision to split the event into a series of meetings across three continents.

They say this year’s forum is an opportunity to focus attention on the global fight against poverty.

For the first time since the WSF was launched in 2001 in response to growing mistrust of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, non-governmental organisations have chosen to meet in three locations.

The cities selected to host the 2006 event were Bamako in Mali, Caracas in Venezuela and Karachi in Pakistan.

The first stage of the meeting in Bamako ended on Monday.

The scene shifts to Caracas on Tuesday, before Karachi takes over for a final series of meetings later in March.

Organisers hope the coordinated events in Africa, South America and Asia will spread the message that poverty is a global problem.

Same goals

Paolo Gilardi, a representative of one of Switzerland’s main public-services unions, is a member of the Swiss delegation attending the meeting in Caracas.

He told swissinfo that the main goal of the WSF had not changed since the first meeting six years ago.

“The aim is the same as it has always been: to bring together the forces against social injustice and to come up with counter-strategies to the domination of global capitalism,” said Gilardi.

He added that the WSF was an opportunity to develop contacts with other unions and non-governmental organisations and to “discover what life is really like for the people living on three-quarters of the planet”.

“We [the Swiss delegation] come from a wealthy country, but we are not here to give lessons. We are here to listen and learn about the world’s social and economic problems.”

For Gilardi, the decentralised nature of the event does not mean that the days of a single, large-scale anti-globalisation protest are over.

“You can’t call this a tiny event when you have 80,000 people coming to Caracas,” he said.

“The idea this year was to avoid focusing all the WSF activities on a single place, and instead give as many cultures and social-development programmes on three different continents the opportunity to take centre stage.”

Migration and development

Discussions in Bamako centred on the issues of migration from Africa and inequality in society, while the Venezuela meeting will address development issues specific to South America.

“The fact is that the problems people face in somewhere like Venezuela are not the same as in Africa, so it makes sense to stage the event in more than one place,” said Gilardi.

“But we’ll only be able to judge the success of the [three-stage] meeting once it’s all over and there is time to take stock of what has been achieved.”

The start of the WSF in Caracas comes just ahead of this year’s WEF meeting, which will bring together business leaders and politicians from around the world.

The new German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is due to give the opening address on Wednesday evening.

“The message that the WSF intends to give those attending the WEF in Davos is that there is an alternative, and that there is a willingness to fight against [the negative consequences of] globalisation,” said Gilardi.

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

The 2006 World Social Forum is the sixth event of its kind. It started in 2001 as an alternative to the World Economic Forum, which holds its annual meeting in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos at the end of January.
This year’s WSF is being held in stages across three continents.
The first stage was held in Bamako, Mali, from January 19 to 23.
The Venezuelan capital, Caracas, plays host to the second stage, which runs from January 24 to 29.
A final series of meetings is scheduled to take place in Karachi, Pakistan, in March.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR