New York prepares for WEF protests

Trucks have been used to block off roads leading to the Forum centre Keystone Archive

New York police are mounting a huge security operation in anticipation of large anti-globalisation protests on Saturday against the World Economic Forum in New York.

This content was published on February 2, 2002 - 00:12

Almost 4,000 police have been mobilised to ensure that there is no repeat of violent protests that have marred high-profile political and economic summits in Genoa, Seattle and at Davos, where the WEF usually holds its annual meeting.

Huge sand-filled trucks have been deployed to block off the streets around the summit's venue at the Waldorf Astoria in mid-town Manhattan. Hundreds of police, some on horseback, are patrolling the streets in the immediate area and the bomb-squad has also been put on alert.

The demonstrators are disenchanted with an economic system they claim is responsible for keeping billions of people around the world in poverty. They accuse the Forum of being a secretive organisation that makes decisions behind closed doors.

Protests in Zurich

In Switzerland, more than 500 people staged a protest in Zurich against the WEF. Police said they had arrested 54 people for holding a demonstration without a permit, violence and property damage.

The demonstrators damaged cars, buildings, and one of Zurich city's trams on Friday night to the tune of SFr300,000. However, the protest against the Forum did not get as rowdy as in previous years.

Last year, protesters descended on the Swiss financial capital after they were prevented from demonstrating in Davos. Police arrested 121 people following violent protests.

War against terrorism

As well as the prospect of violence from street protestors, police in New York are also of course on higher alert after the terrorist attacks on the US last September.

In one of the Forum's plenary sessions on Friday, participants heard a chilling warning about September 11 during a discussion on terrorism from the director of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"This is a small event compared to what is technically feasible," said Graham T.Allison, "What happened at the World Trade Centre could just as easily have been 300,000 people killed if terrorists had used a small nuclear device."

In a separate discussion, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell said that the Bush administration was willing to expand its war against terror.

"We have to look at those nations that proliferate weapons of mass destruction - states that might lend or provide all kinds of weapons to terrorist organisations. We can't just stop at a single terrorist organisation, we have to go through the whole system."

Swiss connection

More than 2,000 people are attending the Forum, which is taking place outside Switzerland for the first time in its thirty-two year history as a gesture of solidarity with New Yorkers.

The Swiss President, Kaspar Villiger is attending the summit along with the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin and the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss.

Their schedule includes talks with the French finance minister, Laurent Fabius, the Romanian prime minister Andre Nastase and the American commerce secretary Dick Evans.

At a debate organised by the US-Swiss joint economic commission, ministers will also debate the threat posed by bio-terrorism which has become a topical issue after the US anthrax attacks.

Economic slump

As well as the terrorist threat, the global economic slowdown is near the top of everybody's agenda here in New York, with most participants feeling optimistic about the prospects for a US recovery this year.

Mr Couchepin is also upbeat about the prospects for Switzerland though he concedes things may get worse before they get better.

"I'm convinced there will be no recession," he says, "there may be one quarter of negative growth but not two. But the slowdown will continue until the summer when we should see a recovery."

by Michael Hollingdale, New York

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