Protesters Arrested at Halliburton Meeting
May. 18, 2006
DUNCAN, Okla. (AP) _ Sixteen people protesting Halliburton Co.'s role as a military contractor were arrested Wednesday outside a building where shareholders discussed spinning off the subsidiary that provides meals, clean laundry and other services to U.S. troops in Iraq.
One man was accused of vandalism for tearing up a plastic fence holding back protesters, and the rest were accused of trespassing as they left an enclosure and headed toward the meeting.
Halliburton announced plans last month to sell just under 20 percent of KBR, which has diluted the company's financial results and drawn criticism of its multibillion contracts in Iraq.
Dave Lesar, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, said Wednesday the company planned to follow the initial offering with either additional public offerings or a sale to a competitor of the remaining 80 percent.
As a standalone company, KBR would have a better opportunity to prosper, Chief Financial Officer Christopher Gaut told about 200 shareholders. He described KBR as Halliburton's nearly lowest margin business and one that has seen contract activity in Iraq decrease.
A spin-off ``would unlock the value of KBR for shareholders,'' Gaut said.
Shareholders of the world's largest provider of products and services to the petroleum and energy industries looked back on a year of record earnings. Halliburton, founded in 1919, earned $2.4 billion in 2005.
Shareholders approved a company request to increase its authorized share count to 2 billion from 1 billion. Lesar said a stock split was planned sometime in the next two months.
Shareholders rejected a request by a group of Texas and Kansas shareholders for adoption of a policy based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Halliburton directors, noting that the company does business in more than 100 countries and refrains from doing business where prohibited by the U.S. government, did not support the proposal.
About 100 people protested outside the meeting. A masked man beat on a large empty jug and protesters chanted, ``The whole world is watching,'' and ``Shame on you,'' while police made the arrests. A designated area had been set up for the protest, and police had told protesters not to leave that area.
One of those arrested was wearing a Dick Cheney mask. The vice president formerly headed Halliburton, which has drawn criticism for its big government contracts, some awarded without competitive bidding. Its KBR unit provides support services for troops stationed in the Middle East.
Lesar said afterward that the protest did not bother him.
``I cannot change the fact that my predecessor is the vice president of the United States,'' he said.
Protesters carried signs such as ``Bush Lied,'' and ``Record Corrupt Blood Soaked Profits.'' Oklahoma Veterans for Peace lined up 37 pairs of combat boots to represent Oklahoma soldiers killed in Iraq.
``I think many Americans, myself included, are concerned that America is becoming a nation of, for and by corporate profits,'' said Nathaniel Batchelder, a member of the veterans group.
Jan Gaddis of Duncan held up an ``I Support Halliburton'' sign.
``It is not some monolithic organization that is devoid of humanity,'' she said. ``They are a very responsible corporate citizen and their employees are involved in the local community and churches.''
The Houston-based company said it decided to meet in the southern Oklahoma city of Duncan where it was founded to highlight company operations that remain here.
Critics accused it of seeking a friendly and remote location in an attempt to duck protests. The company is the leading employer in Duncan, which is about 80 miles south of Oklahoma City.
Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann has said potential protests played no role in deciding where to hold this year's meeting. She said the company has done a good job of supporting American troops overseas.
``Halliburton supports the rights of demonstrators, even when they have the facts wrong,'' she said.
Halliburton shares fell $1.25 to close at $73.76 on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has traded from $39.65 to $83.97 over the last year.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy in Duncan contributed to this report.