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Swiss turn out in force in Florence

The European Social Forum wants to continue the work started in Porto Alegre, Brazil

(Keystone)

Some 150 Swiss representatives from NGOs, unions and political parties have been taking part in the first European Social Forum in Florence.

Swiss banking secrecy and the question of tax evasion were among topics tabled for discussion during the five-day meeting.

Anti-war protest

But the highlight of the forum was a huge demonstration against a possible war in Iraq on Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands took part in the peaceful protest, sparking major security concerns and almost bringing the city to a halt. The organisers said turnout exceeded expectations.

Around 200,000 people are attending the meeting of the European Social Forum - Europe's version of the world meeting that took place in Porto Alegre in Brazil in February this year.

Anti-globalisation

The topic of globalisation has been high on the agenda.

The delegates are said to have discussed strategies for fighting what they perceive as unchecked economic globalisation.

They said that the globalisation process must be socially and democratically motivated and should not lead to increased poverty in the poorer parts of the world.

There was also a call for a general debt amnesty for developing countries.

European network

Pepo Hofstetter of the Swiss coalition of development organisations told swissinfo the main purpose of the forum was to bring together all movements fighting globalisation.

"Our aim is to... construct a network of European organisations, which are working on the same issues," he said.

Hofstetter said that in addition to debates on economic and political issues, more than 100 seminars were planned.

That meeting was the anti-globalisation answer to the World Economic Forum, which brings together business and political leaders every year.

The large Swiss delegation includes representatives from NGOs such as Attac Switzerland, the Berne Declaration, a communications union, the Group for Switzerland Without an Army and the Swiss coalition of development organisations.

Three goals

"For me Florence has three goals," Attac Switzerland's Alessandro Pelizzari told swissinfo. "First of all, it's a symbolic place, which gives an identity to a very varied movement.

"But we will also try to discuss realistically the alternatives and to compare different ideas and projects. It's a discussion that was already started in Porto Alegre."

Pelizzari says the Tuscan capital is also a place where future campaigns can be coordinated.

"For us in Switzerland, the most important thing in the next few months is the mobilisation against the World Economic Forum [summit] in Davos. In Florence we want to create a European network against the WEF," he explained.

Tax evasion

Along with other Swiss and European groups, Attac Switzerland has helped to organise five seminars, one of which is on the privatisation of public services.

"It's a topic which has been at the centre of our campaigns in Switzerland," explained Pelizzari.

Another theme the Swiss want to focus on in Florence is tax evasion and banking secrecy.

Joining Attac Switzerland in the two seminars organised on tax evasion are Berne declaration and the Swiss coalition of development organisations.

Sensitive topic

"It's really important for us," says Pelizzari, "to show our European partners that there's also a campaign in Switzerland against banking secrecy.

"It's a really sensitive topic everywhere in Europe, especially in relation to the new bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the European Union."

swissinfo with agencies

in brief

The first meeting of the European Social Forum is taking place in Florence.

The highlight was a demonstration on Saturday against war with Iraq - hundreds of thousands took part.

Also taking place were conferences and seminars on political and economic topics, as well as many workshops, concerts and shows.

For the duration of the Forum, the Italian authorities have suspended the Shengen border accords on the free movement of people and stepped up checks at all crossings between Italy and the EU.

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