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Sweden plays host to anti-globalization activists

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09:59 CEST+02:00
More than 20,000 anti-globalization activists are due in Malmö this week to take part in the European Social Forum, hoping to breathe new life into a movement many say is

rapidly losing speed.

The anti-globalization movement entered the political scene in 1999 with loud protests on the sidelines of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle -- promoting democracy, economic justice and environmental protection -- but activists admit its influence has waned in recent years and the movement is now struggling to regain its former dynamism and strength.

Known today as the alter-globalization movement, it aims to promote concrete alternatives to what many feel is the capitalist nature of globalization, pushing instead for global cooperation on social issues.

The European Social Forum in the southern town of Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city, is the fifth such meeting to be held since 2002. The last one took place in Athens in 2006.

The meeting, which opens on Wednesday and closes on Sunday, will feature some 250 seminars and 400 cultural activities, all under the theme "Making another Europe possible."

Around 800 associations, non-governmental organizations, unions and other networks will take part.

The activists will discuss a slew of subjects, ranging from social issues in Europe to women's and oppressed people's rights, as well as the international financial crisis, AIDS and climate change.

Contrary to previous forums, this year's ESF is expected to yield "proposals to bring about real solutions," Susan George, the head of the Transnational Institute (TNI) which provides critical analyses of global problems, told AFP.

In the past, delegates spent "too much time on explanations, on descriptions, and on analyzing various crises," she said.

"This time, we're really going to talk about Europe among Europeans and see how we can together create a more democratic, more social, more environmental Europe."

George also said that the geographic location of the meeting -- Scandinavia -- was a good omen for the forum.

"These are countries that are very, very advanced, with small populations and solid traditions of democracy, so it's very good that the meeting is taking place there," she said.

Meanwhile, Christophe Aguiton, a researcher and member of the French Attac movement, said that climate change issues would be in the spotlight, with just 15 months to go before a UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

"There are many of us who believe that the demands of environmentalists and ecologists have to be combined with social issues," he said.

He attributed the alter-globalisation movement's inertia in recent years to the rise of nationalism in China and Russia among others, and the emergence of other movements providing a counterweight to the United States.

"There was a very brief moment in 2000 to 2003 when world issues seemed so global or totally centered around one actor -- the United States, which was launching a war on Iraq -- that a response from a global movement looked like the only possible alternative," Aguiton explained.

"It was a period when the Social Forum had a lot of influence on the agenda because it was the only counter-power," he added.

Today, "we have ... a kind of fragmentation due to the rise of nationalism which is in fact a delayed response to the US offensive (in Iraq) in 2003," he said.

One of the highlights of the forum will be a peaceful demonstration on Saturday with the slogan "Power to the People -- Against Capitalism and Environmental Destruction. Another World is Possible!"

Calls for independent activists to demonstrate on Friday evening have also been circulating on the internet.

Similar protests in the past have turned violent.

Swedish police would not disclose the security measures being taken.

"Of course there will be special measures but we never speak about the details ... There is a risk that at a time like this there will be elements or persons who want to create violence," Malmö police spokesman Lars Förstell told AFP.

AFP/Delphine Touitou

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