Alternative forum opens Thousands rally for peace at Brazilian gathering

PORTO ALEGRE (Brazil): Thousands of people from across the globe marched for peace and more socially inclusive economic growth on Thursday to mark the opening day of the third annual World Social Forum in southern Brazil. 

“I’m here as this is an expression of a movement that is worldwide ... the movement against (US President George W.) Bush’s war is worldwide,” said 59-year-old British university lecturer Mike Gonzalez before his voice was drowned out by drums of the procession. 

Earlier, forum organising committee member Francisco Whitaker declared the event open to a roar of applause from an auditorium packed with representatives from hundreds of grassroots organisations and publications. 

“I welcome government authorities, those people who do not consider themselves authorities and those who are against the authorities,” Joao Verle, the mayor of Porto Alegre, told the opening ceremony before calling for “a vigorous demonstration against war and for peace.” 

Police captain Vanderley da Rosa said 150,000 people had turned out to take part in the procession through the heart of this southern Brazilian city, more than the double the 60,000 who took part in the event last year. 

Organisers expected 100,000 people to attend the speeches, discussions, and workshops of the forum, designed as an alternative to the long-running World Economic Forum, a meeting of the world’s power brokers that also began on Thursday in Davos, Switzerland. 

Protests against a US-led military conflict in Iraq were the main order of the day, but other groups chanted for better agricultural workers’ land rights, an end to the Palestinian conflict, and better treatment of retirees. 

Others chanted for better medication for AIDS sufferers, and against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, an ambitious plan to drop trade barriers from the top of Alaska to the tip of Argentina which some Brazilians believe is a US device to subjugate the region. 

Banners read “No to debt and the FTAA”, and the obligatory, “Make love, not war.”  

A large US contingent filled with the “Who’s Who” of the left, such as political activist Noam Chomsky and socially conscious actors like Danny Glover are also here to rally under the World Social Forum slogan of “Another World is Possible.” 

Other high profile guests at the forum to exchange ideas on themes including democratic sustainable development and human rights included Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, former Portuguese Prime Minister Mario Soares, and a slew of writers and authors who have made a name attacking globalisation. – Reuters 

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