Over a lakh activists converging in Mumbai
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Over a lakh activists converging in Mumbai

Thousands of activists are gathering in Mumbai for the World Social Forum that starts this weekend.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2004 00:38 IST

Thousands of activists are gathering in India's financial hub of Mumbai for the World Social Forum that starts this weekend, the first time the annual anti-globalization meeting will be held in Asia.

Iraq was expected to be the focus at the forum, first organized three years ago as a counterpoint to the meeting of business and government leaders at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alpine resort of Davos.

Activists say the Davos meeting, scheduled for January 21-25, is elitist and neglects the interests of the vast majority of the world's population.

"This globalization hurts developing countries. It harms the poor and makes them poorer and leaves the rich nations far richer," said Shanti Patel, a former Indian Parliament member who is a spokesman for the January 16-21 World Social Forum.

"This is a platform to raise our voice on a world level against multinational control and imperialist globalization," he said. Some 100,000 people from across the world are expected to attend the six-day event that seeks to address capitalism's downside, unfair global trade, foreign debt, poverty, and the right to food, water and land. The meeting culminates with a street march. The forum will take place in Goregaon, a northeastern suburb of Mumbai - a city of 12 million people which has been gearing up for the visitors.

The walls outside the venue are splattered with slogans such as "Resist globalization," and "Another world is possible" - a phrase coined at the earlier forums which took place in Brazil. Paintings by Indian artists of doves and trees and women joining their hands in prayer against yellow and maroon backdrops adorn three Mumbai trains to create awareness about the forum.

Meanwhile, police vans patrolled outside the venue. Participants will pack into open stadiums to hear speeches from Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights lawyer who won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, and Arundhati Roy, the Indian novelist who won the 1997 Booker Prize.

Organizers in Mumbai said war would be a key focus of this year's forum.

"Last year, anti-war groups converged at the World Social Forum in Brazil to protest against the impending war in Iraq," said organizer Gautam Modi. "This year, too, we seek to turn public opinion against war and in search of alternatives." The forum has also spawned a rival conference called the "Mumbai Resistance," which will run from January 17 to 20, and calls itself the "real struggle against imperialist globalization."

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 00:00 IST