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The Nation

N.Y. Readies for Forum Protests

Meeting: Mostly peaceful demonstrations are expected at this year's world economic conference--but police are prepared just in case.

January 29, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — In 1971, Klaus Schwab, a professor of business policy at the University of Geneva and an avid cross-country skier, convened a little-noticed meeting of European corporations in the Alpine resort of Davos to discuss the international marketplace.

Over three decades, the Davos conference has grown to become an impressive gathering of corporate chieftains, world political leaders, academic experts, media representatives and officials of non-governmental organizations--seasoned with a soupcon of celebrities.

Status and skiing mixed with the ambitious goal of bringing business and society together in a partnership to improve the world.

On Thursday, the five-day meeting--a magnet for anti-globalization activists--descends from the scenic Alps to the streets of Manhattan--posing the prospect of possible violent clashes between police and demonstrators who have pledged to try to disrupt the conference.

The list of 3,000 invitees to the World Economic Forum ranges from George L. Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury, to Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, and includes 30 heads of governments, 74 ambassadors, hundreds of corporate leaders and at least six members of President Bush's Cabinet.

Meeting Moved to New York After Attack

Almost 200 scheduled events include discussions of prospects for economic recovery, how to achieve a safer world, the root causes of conflict, the future of terrorism, understanding global anger and an update on international migrations after Sept. 11.

A special message from United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan will conclude the meeting.

The conference was moved from Davos to show solidarity with New York City after the World Trade Center attack.

"I happened to be here with my wife on the 11th of September and I witnessed what happened," Schwab told a heavily guarded news conference at a midtown Manhattan hotel on Monday. "We said we have to change the program. We really are living in a new world.

"When security issues are arising, you always have to be concerned," he added. "We know we are in very good hands. We can see the authorities are taking very good measures."

In a preview of what would be a prompt and very tough response, New York's new Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly recently invited reporters to a rehearsal at Shea Stadium.

On display in the parking lot were lines of helmeted officers wearing gas masks who carried riot batons and were equipped with sheaves of plastic restraints.

The contingent was supported by helicopters, police on horseback and emergency vehicles.

The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the meeting will convene, is being turned into a fortress with police and federal agents guarding the lobbies and corridors and snipers strategically placed on nearby roofs.

Traffic will be banned from some streets.

On Monday, police tightened security even further. Chief of Patrol Joseph Esposito announced the department would enforce an 1845 city ordinance prohibiting three or more protesters from wearing masks.

"Three or more with masks and they're marching, they're under arrest," Esposito promised.

Police Trained to Be Mobile

To help prepare for the meeting, police sent teams of officers to Seattle, Philadelphia, Washington, Quebec and Genoa, Italy, where previous violent anti-globalization rallies have occurred.

Last year in Genoa, a demonstrator was killed in a street battle with security forces.

After protests at an Organization of American States meeting in Ontario and a World Petroleum Conference in Calgary, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service issued a report on anti-globalization groups.

It said protesters are motivated by a variety of causes ranging from accusations of exploitation of workers by multinational corporations in the Third World to mismanagement of natural resources. Included in their grievances are the mistreatment of animals and the philosophy of capitalism.

"Not unlike the massive and often vigorous out-of-Vietnam and ban-the-bomb protests of the '60s and '70s decades, today's demonstrations, resurrecting the anarchist theme of direct action, employ a host of novel methodologies that have given a whole new complexion to the nature of the protests," the report said.

It warned that police must be prepared to be extremely mobile to match the mobility of demonstrators, whose leaders communicate using cell phones. Extremist elements in the past have used moderate protesters as shields to prevent police from viewing violent activities and from stopping the damage.

Some activists have climbed buildings and other lofty sites to stage sit-ins and hang banners. Others have resorted to violence, including smashing windows, starting fires and trashing stores and fast-food outlets, the report said.

Protests May Be Bad PR, Activists Say

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