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Anti-Globalization Protesters Expect Large Crowds at Annual Forum - 2002-01-31

Organizers of the anti-globalization World Social Forum say they expect twice as many participants to attend this year's conference in southern Brazil, compared to last year's inaugural meeting. The Organizers also say they hope to hold a special forum later this year in Jerusalem to discuss the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Anti-globalization activists from around the world are gathering in this hot, tropical port city in southern Brazil for the opening Thursday of the second annual World Social Forum.

For six days they will discuss economic alternatives to the prevailing free market model backed by the United States, which they say has done little to alleviate global poverty.

The forum is organized by a mix of human rights and social activist groups from Europe, Latin America and elsewhere to provide a venue for exchanging ideas and promoting alternative policies.

It is timed to coincide with the annual World Economic Forum, usually held in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together top business executives and political leaders to discuss ways to open up markets and trade. This year that economic forum is being held in New York City.

One of the organizers of the Porto Alegre meeting, Maria Luisa Mendonca of a Brazilian human rights group, says this year's conference will come up with concrete proposals for improving social conditions around the world.

"The idea is that we need to show society as a whole that it's possible to build alternatives to the economic model that we have right now," she said. "So the idea that, yes, what we have is not working but it's impossible to create something new, we need to say it is possible and there are hundreds of millions of people who now believe that and are searching for this type of alternative."

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, conference organizers said they hope to hold a special social forum devoted to world peace in Jerusalem later this year. Brazilian businessman Oded Grajew said the idea is still in its initial stages, but acknowledged such a conference may be difficult to pull off.

"It's very difficult because we plan to make a World Social Forum in Jerusalem, bringing social organizations, movements, unions, intellectuals, political parties from around the world and we know we'll have problems to get them, to have the Israeli government grant visas to all these movements... this is not an easy task as in other places, but where there are problems we are there, where it is difficult this is where we try to go," he said.

Mr. Grajew added the prospects for holding such a conference in Jerusalem will be discussed with Palestinian and Israeli groups attending the Porto Alegre meeting.

Even before the conference got underway, Latin American and European mayors meeting in Porto Alegre agreed Wednesday to send urgently needed medicine to Argentina.

Because of the economic crisis and currency devaluation, Argentina's public hospitals and pharmacies have been running out of medicine and other health supplies.

In response to a plea by the mayor of Buenos Aries, his counterparts meeting in Porto Alegre agreed to begin collecting medicine and money in their cities to send to Argentina.

The mayor of Geneva, Switzerland, Manuel Tornare, told reporters it is a gesture of solidarity with the Argentine people, who he said are victims of corruption and mismanagement.

Last year, 20,000 people participated in the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. This year, organizers say they expect twice that number - up to 40,000 people, to attend the hundreds of seminars and conferences ranging from workers' rights to food security, from foreign debt to the problem of illegal trafficking of women and children.

The Social Forum ends February 5.

Last year's conference was marred by acts of vandalism against an experimental farm owned by the U.S. company Monsanto, which was said to be raising genetically modified crops. But these acts were deplored at the time, and organizers say this year they will not be repeated.