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Groups Say Summit Goals Undermined

August 31, 2002

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ About 10,000 people marched Saturday from a township of tin shacks and open sewers to the glittering venue of a U.N. development summit to protest that world leaders are not doing enough to fight poverty.

Demonstrators dressed in red T-shirts and bandanas danced and sang old anti-apartheid songs as they gathered in the sprawling township of Alexandra, a long walk from the summit’s site in Sandton, South Africa’s lavish icon of conspicuous consumption.

Negotiations at the summit intensified Saturday, bearing down on some of the most contentious issues _ including energy targets and agricultural subsidies _ in an action plan for combating poverty and preserving the environment.

But environmentalists and social activists said those commendable goals were being watered down.

``We must liberate the poor of the world from poverty,″ South African President Thabo Mbeki said at a rally before one of the two protest marches out of Alexandra. He called on the summit to set clear timetables for reaching its goals.

``It is easy for all of us to agree on nice words,″ he said. ``Now has come the time for action.″

The first march grew to about 3,500 people _ mainly local residents _ as it progressed through the narrow streets of Alexandra. Many chanted anti-American slogans and carried banners portraying President Bush as a ``toxic Texan.″

``Africa is not for sale,″ said Milton Sibanda, 33, who joined the demonstrators carrying placards denouncing capitalism. ``We need land. We need accommodation. Since Rio, they have been saying things have changed, but these 10 years, I haven’t seen it.″

The organizers of the march, an alliance of anti-globalization groups, said they want to ``unmask″ the summit as a farce.

South African security forces reinforced the cordon around the conference grounds, bringing in armored vehicles, more police with riot helmets and shields and strung coils of barbed wire at key points within the steel-and-concrete perimeter fence. That was on top of the 8,000 security personnel deployed at the site since the conference began Monday, backed by dogs and metal detectors.

In Saturday’s second demonstration, various non-governmental groups meeting at a parallel forum marched on Sandton to deliver the message that ``sustainable development is possible,″ said Muzi Khumalo, the spokesman for the march.

``It is immoral that some people and some nations have more wealth than they need while other people starve,″ said Anglican Bishop Geoffrey Davies. ``It is our demand that all of God’s creation be protected for future generations.″

About 7,000 people had joined the group by the time it set off for the conference site in the early afternoon.

Khumalo lashed out against the ``posturing of U.S. delegates,″ whom he accused of blocking any real efforts to combat poverty and preserve the environment.

The United States resists the inclusion of lofty targets and timetables in the summit’s action plan, arguing in favor of specific commitments to bring sanitation to the developing world, increase the use of renewable energy sources and preserve biodiversity.

``We believe there are multiple paths to be pursued here,″ said Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, head of the U.S. delegation.

South African authorities said they were not worried the marches would turn into the kind of street violence that marred anti-globalization protests in Seattle and Genoa, Italy.

``There is a security strategy in place to deal with any eventuality,″ said Charles Nqakula, South Africa’s safety and security minister.

The 10-day summit has been focusing on ways to get water, electricity, education and health care to the world’s poorest while protecting the environment. About 1.2 billion people lack clean drinking water and 2 billion are without sanitation.

U.N. officials said Friday about 95 percent of the 70-odd page summit action plan had been agreed to by the nearly 200 countries attending _ but the remaining issues were the most disputed.

Ministers and other delegation leaders met throughout the day Friday with South African Environment Minister Valli Moosa to try to resolve the lingering disagreements.

``Everybody’s a poker player in Johannesburg at the moment, and you’re never quite sure about a poker game until it’s over,″ said Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program.

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