5,000 Protestors Expected in Geneva for WTO Ministerial

25 November 2009

Roughly five thousand protesters are planning peaceful rallies to demonstrate their opposition to the WTO, which will hold its seventh ministerial conference in Geneva next week.

Protest organisers vow that there will be no violence and no attempts to block access to the conference venue, but local police have mobilised hundreds of officers from Geneva and around the region to help maintain order.

Activists claim that the WTO's promotion of free trade has helped trigger the ongoing economic and social crises, and that negotiations toward further trade opening should be stopped. "Thirty years of neoliberal globalisation policies and fifteen years of the WTO have done nothing but increase poverty in the South and inequality, unemployment and job instability in the North," the groups asserted in a statement. A new global trade deal under the WTO's Doha Round trade talks would benefit major corporations at the expense of the poor and could increase unemployment, they contend.

The opening day of this year's conference, 30 November, marks the ten-year anniversary of the massive protests that temporarily halted the WTO's third ministerial meeting in Seattle. More than 40,000 demonstrators showed up for the ‘Battle in Seattle', surrounding the conference centre and temporarily preventing ministers and delegates from getting inside. Riot police wielded tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and stun grenades to keep protesters at bay, and ultimately made more than 600 arrests.

But protests at the upcoming meeting in Geneva will strike a much different tone. "Here there will no repetition of the Seattle action," said Giangiorgio Gargantini, a Geneva protest planner.

Demonstrators are planning a number of activities before and during the ministerial conference, campaigner Deborah James told journalists on Tuesday. The events will kick off on Saturday at 2 pm, when roughly 5,000 protestors will march from Geneva's Place Neuve to the centre of town. And on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, campaigners will hold midday rallies at the corner of Rue de Varembé and Avenue de la France, just outside the conference centre where the meeting will take place. All of the planned demonstrations have been authorised by the Swiss authorities.

The anti-WTO demonstrations have been endorsed by more than 30 groups, including various chapters of ATTAC, a widespread anti-capitalist group, unions and several political parties, including the Geneva Socialist and Green parties.

Laurent Moutinot, the cantonal minister in charge of the police, said he had no worries about the protests, but asserted his responsibility was to ensure that the "WTO conference takes place in the best possible conditions."

The WTO's Doha Round talks - which were launched two years after the infamous Seattle protests - are officially off the agenda of the ministerial conference. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has instead asked ministers to focus on the organisation's ‘regular work'. But the negotiations are expected to hang heavily over meetings.

ICTSD Reporting; "Peaceful demonstrations planned for WTO ministerial," REUTERS, 9 November 2009; "Geneva police brace for anti-WTO protest," SWISSTER, 9 November 2009.

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