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Developing countries fight for say at UN crisis meet

By Haifa Jedea
Inter Press Service (IPS)

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 3 (IPS) - The postponement of a major U.N. General Assembly conference to address the global economic crisis and its impact on development is seen by some civil society groups and analysts as a sign of the conflicting interests between the world's richest and poorest countries.

Although the meeting was ostensibly delayed to give delegates more time to negotiate the draft outcome document, rumors have circulated that it was largely due to opposition from the G20 bloc of economically powerful countries.

"There’s a lot of frustration here among those that believe that the world economic system should be democratic and involve everyone in the decision making," James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS.

In fact, the General Assembly president, Miguel D'Escoto, had called for the three-day conference back in April as a counterweight to the prescriptions of the G20, which he dismissed as "a minority on an international level".

The General Assembly conference, now scheduled for Jun. 24-26, is to be attended by most world leaders, with the aim of adopting a final declaration on how to cope with the crisis. The new draft text is supposed to be finalised by Jun. 15.

At one time the global economy was shaped and dictated to by the G6: the world's six major industrialised nations, namely the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. With the exception of Japan, the rest were from the Western world.

Canada joined later to transform the group into the G7. But there were still no developing nations, although the decisions of the G7 also impacted heavily on the developing world.

When Russia was admitted, the group became the G8, as it existed last year.

The G20 that met in London recently also included some of the world's major developing nations, such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Argentina, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, along with Australia, South Korea and the 27-member European Union (which also includes the former East European states).

However, as Roberto Bissio, executive director of the Third World Institute, told IPS recently, the June meeting is obviously an opportunity for the world's other 172 countries, not represented by the G20, to have their say.

Last weekend, the Bail Out the People Movement, an umbrella organisation of U.S.-based NGOs, held its own "People’s Economic Summit" across the street from U.N. headquarters. The event had initially been timed to coincide with the General Assembly conference, which was supposed to start on Monday, Jun. 1

"[The U.N.] is getting all this pressure from the so-called developed nations to not have [the conference] because having such a thing as G192 is an attempt to raise a struggle of the most oppressed and exploited around the world, " said Larry Hales, an organiser with the group Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST).

"They [the G20] should have to answer to the rest of the world and that world should dictate how things should move forward," he told IPS.

Organisers said they supported the special session of the full 192-member General Assembly as giving a greater voice to the less powerful countries.

Bernadette Ellorin of BAYAN-USA told IPS, "[The conference] is a positive initiative from elements inside the U.N. to put forth a more democratised dialogue coming from developing nations themselves on the impact of the world economic crisis on them."

An Asian ambassador, who did not want to be named, told IPS that European Union diplomats had opposed the postponement, but that many officials were unable to attend the conference in the beginning of June.

The NGOs also want to see a reorganisation of international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, which activists have long argued fail to promote equitable development or alleviate poverty.

Specific demands include a bailout of the impoverished countries that the economic crisis has hit the hardest, fundamental reforms of the U.S. and European banking systems, debt forgiveness, and free healthcare.

"If you want to have universal healthcare, you have take the profit out of that system," said Fred Goldstein, author of the new book "Low Wage Capitalism".

The Bail Out the People Movement also plans to hold mass protests at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Sep. 24 and 25.

"The purpose of these high-level meetings of governments and bankers is not to rescue the people of the world from depression level unemployment, evictions, homelessness, poverty, social and economic inequality and war. These summits are about fixing the economic and financial order that puts profits before people," says the group's website.

They also plan to hold demonstrations and another People’s Summit in Detroit, Michigan later on this month, as well as protests against foreclosures and evictions in New York City.

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