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Thursday, Jun. 21, 2001 at 2:03 AM
"It is time to take a stand against this kind of threat to free discussion" -Caroline Anstey, World Bank
world_bank_prague300ap.jpg, image/jpeg, 300x180
Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Protest fear forces World Bank switch
The World Bank has decided to hold an annual development conference in cyberspace after protesters threatened to disrupt the event.
The meeting, which was scheduled to take place in Barcelona, is the latest casualty of the wave of anti-globalisation protests which have swept Europe and the US in recent years.
Jean-Christophe Bas of the World Bank told BBC News Online that there were fears that a counter summit planned by French and Spanish protesters - which was to include a public trial of the World Bank - would turn violent.
He said the protest groups turned down an invitation to take part in an open discussion forum at the meeting.
Last September, the World Bank's annual meeting in Prague was the focus of mass protests which forced the organisers to end the gathering one day early.
The G8 summit of world leaders in Genoa next month is also facing the prospect of disruption as thousands of anarchists have vowed to demonstrate in the Italian port city.
In announcing the cancellation, World Bank spokeswoman Caroline Anstey said:
"The intention of many of the groups who plan to converge on Barcelona is not to join the debate or to contribute constructively to the discussion, but to disrupt it...It is time to take a stand against this kind of threat to free discussion."
But the World Bank is hoping that its move to interactive webcasting on the internet will become a model which allows for active participation by viewers across the world.
Participants who register online, will be able to question conference speakers, including the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn.
However, the World Bank has reserved the right to censor questions "they consider to include content that is inappropriate for a general audience and/or incongruous with the stated goals of this event".
Mr Bas said the World Bank was hoping for "provocative" questions which would stimulate debate - and it expected several thousand people to take part.
"This live video, interactive approach is a way of involving even more people... as we try to make the debate on fighting poverty more inclusive each year," said Jean-François Rischard, World Bank Vice President for Europe.
The two-day conference will address issues of economic development in the world's poorest countries, and will include a wide range of speakers from the academic community.
It will include sessions on the impact of globalisation and the need for domestic economic regulation, as well as discussion of the role of multinational companies with Jean-Marie Messier, chief executive of French media company Vivendi Universal.
The World Bank has previously provided video links to its annual conference, but these have not been interactive.
Anti-globalisation protesters have been just as quick to use the internet, with the World Social Forum - attended by about 10,000 activists in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre - hosting an alternative webcast during last January's Davos summit of world business and political leaders.
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