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India: The Loud Answer to Davos, In Bombay This Year, Is Antiwar

by Saritha RaiNew York Times
January 22nd, 2004

Kenyans in colorful robes and headgear, South Koreans with blue peace signs painted on their faces and Britons carrying posters of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush crossed out in black joined thousands of others marching through the congested streets of Bombay on Wednesday to denounce the Iraq war. It was a demonstration that marked the close of the fourth annual World Social Forum.

Delegates carrying placards that read "Iraq is not for sale" and "End occupation of Iraq" elbowed others who raised slogans of "Down with war, down with Bush" and caused chaos in downtown Bombay. Police officers brandishing riot sticks could barely keep the crowds under control.

The local police, who feared that the antiwar protest might get out of hand, mounted a heavy guard at the United States Consulate.

More than 80,000 people from a hundred countries took part in the six-day forum, which was held in Asia for the first time. The forum was founded as a counter to the World Economic Forum, which is being held in Davos, Switzerland, an international meeting of politicians and business executive to discuss world trade and other issues.

The march ended at Azad Maidan, or Freedom Park, near the majestic Victoria Terminus, a lavish 19th-century domed structure that houses India's largest train station.

The mood was somber. Detler V. Larcher, from Bremen, Germany, gestured to the milling crowds and said, "People are clearly saying that George Bush is responsible for the growing anti-American feeling across the world."

In addition to its primary focus on denouncing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the forum highlighted issues ranging from caste and gender discrimination to nuclear disarmament and rights of the disabled. True to form, the meeting did not come up with any declaration or action plan.

The freewheeling nature of the forum, however, did not find unanimous support even within India. A splinter group of far left elements called for a violent movement against globalization and war.

This group, calling itself Mumbai Resistance 2004 (using a common spelling of "Bombay"). was based just outside the forum and vehemently protested its acceptance of financing from "American multinationals." So while the previous three meetings, in Prto Alegre, Brazil, were financed by the Ford Foundation, the meeting in India was sponsored by Oxfam International and others.

The event will shift back to Brazil next year.

Nineteen-year-old Chaman Singh, who weaved his way in and out of the milling crowds peddling savory Indian snacks for 5 cents each, said he did not know who George Bush was or what the meeting was all about.

"Most of them look like they are farmers and they don't seem to want my samosas," said Mr. Singh, who had shifted his business to Azad Maidan from the nearby beach in anticipation of good sales. But by the end of the evening, he was disappointed. "I usually make 100 rupees [$2.20] at Chowpatty Beach, but today I've only made 60 rupees so far," he said.





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