Earth Summit faces protests over rich/ poor divide
JOHANNESBURG - Thousands of protesters are expected to march from Johannesburg\'s squalid shacks to the plush Earth Summit venue on Saturday to protest the global divide between rich and poor.
Police, fearing a repeat of the mayhem that marred summits in Seattle and Genoa, will be out in force when up to 20,000 protesters carry their demands to the summit\'s doorstep ahead of the arrival of world leaders this weekend.
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who launched the U.N. gathering earlier this week with a call to end \"global apartheid\", was due to address some of the marchers at one of two planned rallies.
\"We have no reason to believe the marches will not be peaceful, but we will act if any laws are broken,\" police director Henriette Bester told Reuters.
As the city braced for the biggest protest of the 10-day U.N. event, exhausted summit negotiators argued late last week over a plan to enrich poor nations while protecting the planet.
The bulk of the U.N. text has been agreed but delegates said 14 key issues remained unresolved.
\"There\'s a sort of tug of war going on,\" Norwegian Development Minister Hilde Frafjord Johnson told Reuters.
Delegates are trying to reconcile U.S. and European Union demands for aid to be tied more clearly to improving human rights and democracy, and insistence by developing nations that the rich states do more to cut subsidies to their own farmers that help keep Third World imports out of their markets.
Asked if there was a risk that the text would be too watered down by wrangling to be a big help to developing nations, Johnson said: \"Yes, there\'s a danger of that.\"
Top summit mediator Valli Moosa, South Africa\'s environment minister, said they were making progress but did not elaborate.
\"Balls are lying all around and I now have them in the air,\" Moosa told reporters after Friday\'s session ended.
Negotiators talking into the small hours of the night were bogged down at one point over whether the text should say \"including\" or \"and in particular\", an African delegate said.
\"The talks are going nowhere,\" he said, summing up the feelings of many at the summit\'s midway point.
Russia shocked environmentalists last week by saying it could decide against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which would kill off the pact against global warming that has already been rejected by the United States.
\"There is a risk. There is a risk, without a doubt,\" Deputy Minister Mukhamed Tsikanov of the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade told Reuters in Johannesburg.
With more than 45,000 people focused on fighting poverty and saving the environment at the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Alexandra township has become a symbol of everything the world hopes to leave behind.
The luxury summit venue of Sandton is only a few miles from the Alexandra area slums - one of the starkest examples of the gap between poverty and opulence in the world.
Sandton\'s mostly white residents live behind high walls, drive on smooth roads and eat in some of the country\'s best restaurants. The 350,000 people crammed into \"Alex\" are black and poor, and more than half of its adults are without jobs.
Protest leaders have promised a peaceful march against the summit \"fat cats\" in Sandton. But South Africa\'s leaders fear violent demonstrations or heavy-handed policing will hurt the city\'s hopes to emerge from the summit with a cleaned-up image.
Saturday\'s two major marches will take place after days of hard negotiating between 17 activist groups and the government, which had vowed to clamp down on unauthorised protests.
But activists have argued over whose march they should join - the Social Movements Indaba or a more moderate Global People\'s Forum called by the ruling ANC party and trade unions.
SMI was involved in a face-off with police last weekend where officers fired stun grenades to disperse several hundred marchers.
The summit, to be attended by 100 world leaders who begin arriving on Saturday, is by far the most prestigious event South Africa has hosted since the death of white minority rule in 1994 ended the country\'s isolation.
The country\'s first black president Nelson Mandela, initially the forgotten man of the summit, was given a last-minute role in next week\'s programme after delegates commented privately on the surprising absence of Africa\'s most revered statesman.
Story by Darren Schuettler
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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