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Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 09:32 GMT
Trying to protest in Doha
Greenpeace's ship, the Rainbow Warrior
As close to Doha as most protesters can get
By the BBC's Julia Wheeler at the WTO talks in Doha

Since the Qatari capital of Doha was announced as a venue for the World Trade Organisation's Fourth Ministerial Conference, there have been cries of protest from campaigners who oppose its aims.

They say their voices cannot be heard in a country which tolerates little dissent and has refused visas to many of those who disagree with the objectives of the WTO.

Demonstrators say the choice of Qatar is one more sign the organisation is undemocratic, but ministers at the meeting say there is nothing democratic about riots on the streets, as witnessed in Seattle two years ago.

Security in Doha protects delegates from the perceived threat of terrorism, but it is also a remarkably effective way of keeping anyone opposed to the WTO here, out of sight, and perhaps out of mind.

Local activists

Abdulnabi Alekri from nearby Bahrain does not need a visa to enter Qatar, but he cannot get into the conference. As a human rights activist, he is used to the rigid rules of dissent in the Gulf.

"I think the westerners or those who belong to democratic states, they have more power or they are able to protest more because at least their governments will protect them. But if I protested and I am arrested here, my government will not ask for me," he says.

Inside the conference, the UK secretary of state for international development, Clare Short, says it is not undemocratic that non-governmental organisations have not been allowed the freedom to protest at the meeting.

"Excuse me, who are they? The governments represent the people in an open way that listens to civil society at home and having loads of NGO's squawking all over the place does not represent the poor of the world. The governments of developing countries do," she told the BBC.

Rainbow Warrior in port

Across the bay, nestling alongside traditional Arabian wooden boats, or dhows, is the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior.

The highly guarded conference centre is clearly visible from the bridge of the ship, but it is frustratingly out of reach for the activists who have come here to protest against what they say is the WTO putting trade issues before those of the environment.

Radio listeners in Doha have a new, unlicensed station, courtesy of Greenpeace. Campaigner Zeina Alhajj says it is one of the only ways environmental campaigners can express themselves, because the WTO is using Qatar's lack of democracy to its own advantage.

"They are hiding behind Doha, they are hiding behind the people here, trying to show it's not our responsibility, it's not our fault. Now the challenge I think in front of the WTO is 'where next?' I mean, where are they going to go? Are they going to choose another Arab country to hide behind? I hope not."

The WTO has so far kept those who disagree with its aims out of the frame in Doha, but there is no guarantee it will be as successful next time round

See also:

10 Nov 01 | Business
Labour: the missing issue at Doha
09 Nov 01 | Business
Protesters barred from trade summit
08 Nov 01 | Business
Doha on high alert
06 Nov 01 | Business
Anti-WTO protest in Delhi
07 Nov 01 | Business
What's wrong with Doha
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