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September 17, 2006 8:02 pm

Activists stage rare protest in Singapore

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A local opposition group on Sunday was staging the longest civil disobedience action in Singapore since the 1960s to protest against curbs on freedom of expression and assembly.

The demonstration by Chee Soon Juan, head of the Singapore Democratic party, occurs at a sensitive time for Singapore, whose human rights record has come under the spotlight for its refusal last week to allow 27 invited activists to attend the International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings.

Singapore has since relented by saying it would allow 22 of the 27 activists to enter the country, but non-governmental organisations dismissed the offer as “too little and too late”. They are urging a boycott, dealing a blow to efforts by the IMF and World Bank to engage NGOs. However, about 80 NGO representatives ignored the call and were attending sessions.

Dr Chee and six local activists attempted on Saturday to march to parliament and then the Suntec centre, site of the IMF/World Bank meeting, but were immediately stopped by the police, who surrounded them.

The protesters have since refused to move, in a civil disobedience tactic that
has rarely been used in Singapore.

The government has banned the assembly of five or more persons without
a police permit since the 1960s.

“We will stay here until prime minister Lee Hsien Loong gives his opening speech at the IMF opening ceremony on Tuesday morning,” Dr Chee said.

The stand-off attracted a small crowd of supporters and a larger group of journalists who were filmed by plainclothes members of Singapore’s Internal Security Department.

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