Singapore politician plans prolonged standoff


  • World
  • Sunday, 17 Sep 2006

By Fayen Wong

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A Singapore opposition leader surrounded by police for two days in a stand-off over the right to protest said on Sunday he would refuse to move until Tuesday's formal start of the IMF-World Bank meetings. 

Chee Soon Juan, head of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party, had planned a rally in a city park on Saturday, followed by a protest march to parliament and the convention centre where thousands of finance chiefs, bankers and journalists are attending the IMF-World Bank meetings. 

Chee Soon Juan (R), secretary-general of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), stands near "Speakers' Corner" in Singapore during a stand-off with police, September 17, 2006. (REUTERS/Tim Chong)

But Chee, his sister Chee Siok Chin, and five supporters, were prevented from leaving Hong Lim park, near Singapore's Speakers' Corner, as about 30 armed police formed human barricades around the Chees on Saturday and Sunday, at times linking arms and pressing close to them to stop their movement. 

"Since the police have prevented us from moving to parliament house, we are left with no choice but to remain here at Speakers' Corner. We will stay here until Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gives his opening speech at the IMF opening ceremony," said Chee, still surrounded on Sunday evening. 

He said it was important for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to be aware of issues such as the lack of transparency and accountability in Singapore. 

"Singapore has one of the best rankings in the world on control of corruption, but it ranks in the middle of the pack on voice and accountability, below much poorer countries such as Brazil and Botswana," the World Bank said in its latest report on governance, published on Friday. 

It said "voice and accountability" refer to the extent to which a country's citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association and a free media. 

"Our view has been very clearly articulated. It's in the press, you can read it. We have been totally consistent and transparent and obvious on the matter," Tharman Shanmugaratnam, minister for education and second minister for finance, said on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank event when asked about the police stand-off. 

POLICE PERMIT 

Chee had wanted to protest about the city-state's restrictions on freedom of speech and its widening income gap. Under Singapore law, public gatherings of more than four people require a police permit. 

About 200 people, including media, had gathered for the rally on Saturday. Police asked them for their names and reasons for attending. Several plainclothes policemen and women mingled among the supporters and journalists. 

As many as five policemen with video cameras filmed Chee, his supporters and journalists during the weekend. 

Supporters brought the Chees and the other activists food and water, and the pair slept briefly on the pavement during the night. Puzzled passers-by, among them party-goers on their way home, stopped to stare or chat. 

British tourist Christopher Osborn, 27, who saw the stand-off on Saturday, decided to stay the entire night. 

"I'm astounded by the police preventing the legitimate movement of people," he said. "There's a disproportionate reaction and it shows another side to Singapore." 

Chee, an acerbic critic of the government, has had several run-ins with Singapore's leaders. On Tuesday, the High Court ruled that Chee and his sister had defamed the Prime Minister and his father, Lee Kuan Yew. No damages have been announced. 

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