Singapore to admit activists after stinging World Bank criticism

Singapore on Friday backed down on its reluctance to admit some activists accredited for World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, saying 22 of the 27 would now be allowed entry.

SINGAPORE - Singapore on Friday backed down on its reluctance to admit some activists accredited for World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings, saying 22 of the 27 would now be allowed entry.

The decision came after stinging criticism from the Bank's president, Paul Wolfowitz. He said earlier Friday that the issue had damaged the reputation of the city-state, which prides itself on its image as an efficiently-run regional commercial hub.

"The S2006 organizing committee has decided to allow the entry of 22 of the 27 CSO (Civil Society Organizations) representatives," a statement from the Singaporean organizers of the event said.

It said the decision followed input from the IMF and Bank earlier Friday.

"The S2006 organizing committee has conveyed its decision to the IMF/WB this evening," the statement said.

"The Committee has also informed the IMF/WB that if the remaining five CSO representatives were to attempt to enter Singapore, they will be subject to interview and may not be allowed in." Singapore had said there were security concerns about 27 of the hundreds of activists which the Bank and Fund had accredited as part of a long-standing dialogue between the financial institutions and their critics.

Some of the 27 had been involved in violence at earlier international meetings, Singapore said.

Wolfowitz and IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato raised the issue in a meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Thursday night.

The spat had overshadowed the run-up to next week's meetings in Singapore, which also refused to relax its tough rules on public protests during the events.

The World Bank chief said he received a pledge Thursday night from Lee that each case would be looked at individually, but said the city-state should have handled the matter differently.

"Enormous damage has been done ... A lot of that damage has been to Singapore and it's self-inflicted," he said at a meeting with non-governmental organizations.

"I would certainly argue that at the stage of success they've reached they'd be much better for themselves if they (took) a more visionary approach to the process," he said.

The Bank and IMF meetings attended by thousands are the biggest international conference ever held in the city-state.

"Our reputation is on the line," the prime minister said last month.

But IMF managing director Rodrigo Rato said the dispute over admission of the activists was "a very serious matter." He spoke beside Wolfowitz at the same meeting with non-governmental organizations, also known as CSOs.

Rato said activists accredited by the two financial institutions are people they regularly work with.

"And we don't have any doubt of their capacity to behave," he said. Wolfowitz had also said Singapore appeared to have reneged on a 2003 memorandum of understanding that granted open access to activists accredited for the Bank and Fund meetings.

Police have said Singapore is a high-profile "terrorist" target.

Activists allege accreditation has been withdrawn from some NGO members who had planned to attend the IMF-World Bank meetings.

"People have been harassed, kept several hours at the airport before being allowed entry," Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Uruguay-based NGO Social Watch, told Wolfowitz and Rato.

Bissio alleged an Italian journalist was among those denied entry to Singapore. Police said they could not comment on specific cases "to which we have raised objections on accreditation." They earlier confirmed that three activists, from India and the Philippines, had been deported because of security concerns.

Political stability has been the bedrock of the economic success of the city-state, which grew from a Third World country to become one of Asia's wealthiest nations.

Critics say this came at a price, in the form of restrictions on freedom of speech and political activity.

Activists said the Bank and IMF themselves were partly to blame for the dispute over activists, had not done enough to pressure Singapore, and should not have held the event there in the first place. AFP