by Someshwar Singh

Geneva, 29 Nov 99 -- Mass protests were organised over the week-end in Geneva and many cities in France, including Paris, Lyon and Marseille, against the World Trade Organisation and the millennium round of trade negotiations that it is expected to launch at its Ministerial meeting in Seattle.

About three thousand people took to the streets in Geneva. In a peaceful demonstration, they passed through the city and later gathered in front of the WTO building. Subsequently, they assembled in front of the main UN building in Geneva.

The demonstrations were organized by the 'Anti-Millennium Round Coordination' committee, which groups about 25 local and national organizations opposed to the politics of globalisation that is actually promoted by the WTO.

The speakers pointed out that at the Seattle trade talks, the multinational companies and their allies would like to build on the power they already have. "We, on the other hand, would like to see a moratorium on any new negotiations, so as to take stock of the WTO and to radically change its management," they pointed out.

Upto 20,000 people demonstrated in Paris "against the logic of WTO" with placards which read "the world is not a commodity." In addition to Lyon and Marseille, anti-WTO demonstrations were also witnessed in other French cities such as Strasbourg and Lille.

Protest against the WTO as well as the World Bank was also seen last Wednesday in New Delhi as about 300 representatives of indigenous people forced their way into the premises of the World Bank office.

The protesters, most of whom represented indigenous people from the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, were bitter about 'forestry programmes' undertaken in the name of conserving forests, wildlife and the biodiversity. The also complained that "in the Seattle round the same agencies plan to introduce a new agenda to open up native forests to logging and to weaken environmental protection in the interests of multinational companies."

All this is a part of the destructive process of globalization which is driving tribals out of the forests and reducing their rights to them. These were also the conclusions reached in the two day meeting on "Debt in the Forestry Sector: its Impact on the Forests, the Tribals and the Economy" organised by the mass and tribal organizations of Madhya Pradesh on 22nd and 23rd November, 1999.

The demonstrators in New Delhi met the country director of the World Bank in India and handed to him an open letter addressed to the World Bank president.

"We know that in the Seattle Round of the WTO, there is a plan to hand over our forests to commercial and industrial interests. We will resist this too, with all our might. For the World Bank and the WTO, our forests are a marketable commodity," the letter notes.

"But for us, the forests are a home, our source of livelihood, the dwelling of our gods, the burial grounds of our ancestors, the inspiration of our culture. We do not need you to save our forests. We will not let you sell our forests. So go back from our forests and our country."

Besides organizations from Madhya Pradesh, representatives from the National Alliance of People's Movements and organizations from Orissa, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and activists from Delhi also participated in the demonstration.

The World Bank-funded Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project came in for particular attention. This massive project worth Rs. 800 crores is based on the (unproven) premise that in order to protect and conserve the forests the dependence of forests dwellers on them be reduced to the minimum.

In reality, say the indigenous people, such programmes are an attempt to separate tribals from the forests, a process beneficial to neither. (SUNS4562)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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