Global Policy Forum

World Bank Fails to Stop Protests


By Miriam Hils-Cosgrove

June 26, 2001

The World Bank's first online development conference kicked off yesterday after threats of disruption by anti-globalisation protesters prompted organisers to move the conference from its planned venue in Barcelona to cyberspace. However, despite the best efforts of conference organisers to control the content of questions posted on the website, protesters managed to bypass censors with messages such as: "Stop worshipping the multinationals" and "Talk to the real poor ... stop destroying culture and environment".

The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) Europe 2001, due to take place 25-26 June in the Spanish city, was cancelled when, organisers said, "it became clear that it would face significant disruption from various protest groups which were planning to converge on Barcelona at the time of the conference". In its stead, World Bank officials in Paris announced last week ABCDE Europe 2001 would take place online in a fully interactive, live video format. By moving the conference to the internet, organisers hoped to avert the violent protests which have marred meetings of global institutions over the last two years.

Bank officials promised that registration for the online conference, at which prominent figures such as World Bank president James Wolfensohn and Vivendi Universal CEO Jean-Marie Messier are discussing topics such as globalisation and poverty, would be unrestricted and free of charge. Online participants have been invited to send in questions and comments, but, conference organisers have warned, the questions posted on the website would be vetted by a review team instructed to exclude any messages "incongruous with the stated goals of this event".

But as the first day of the conference came to a close, the reviewers did not appear to have been entirely successful in filtering questions. Wolfensohn was repeatedly urged to "Drop the debts" by one cyber-protester, while another posed the question: "Does the level of violence at cities hosting talks on globalisation and free trade indicate the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the World Economic Forum have embarked on a path at odds with the expectation of democratic communities?"

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