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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 10:01 GMT
Luxury and squalor in Doha
A delegate takes time out to paddle near a conference hotel
Not everyone in Doha has time to enjoy the view
Ben Brown

The small city of Doha, capital of the Gulf state of Qatar, is struggling to cope with thousands of delegates and journalists attending the five-day meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The trade talks are taking place in the luxury Sheraton hotel, set by the calm, sparkling waters of the Gulf - a resplendent pyramid with swimming pools, atrium restaurants and all the luxuries that Western civilisation offers the wealthy.

On the ground floor, you can purchase luxury goods, from Rolls Royces, to Cartier watches to golf clubs, and book your holiday in Europe on Qatar Airlines.

But you can't get a sandwich in the building - at least not regularly.

And there is a daily struggle to find a computer terminal, with ten times as many journalists as media desks.

The four thousand people attending the WTO meeting equal the total number of hotel rooms in the country, and many delegates and journalists are housed in apartment compounds several miles from the conference centre.

For security reasons, only special buses are allowed near the Sheraton, and delegates and journalists often have to wait several hours to reach the conference centre.

They are all funnelled through the grounds of the Qatar tennis club to an open-air bus station, where most of the Doha bus fleet appears to have been commandeered to transport them.

Next the conference centre, journalists cross a dusty building site and car park to reach the media centre.

Along the route, soldiers armed with automatic rifles sit every 50 yards under tents with their flasks of coffee.

Among the security measures for the conference, one foreigner in living in Qatar reports being asked to stop his cycle rides and bird-watching walks round the local naval base for the week.

Once at the conference centre, a jumble of phone lines, temporary booths, and a bevy of computer terminals serve for the media and non-governmental organisations alike.

Qatari security personnel, in their flowing white robes known as dishdashas patrol checkpoints at every entrance - with a separate search area for women.

Land Rovers cruise the perimeter, while camouflaged police vehicles, including one mounted with water cannon, sit idlely next door.

But just a few hundred yards away, another dusty car park leads to a massive shopping mall that could be in Watford or Lyon, complete with a Carrefour, Debenhams, and - strangest of all - a deserted ice-skating rink called "Winter Wonderland."

The few shoppers are lost in the vast mall, with only the cafes and a ubiquitous Starbucks showing any signs of life.

Globalisation has reached this far, but its triumph is far from complete.

It could be symbolic of the Alice-in-Wonderland feeling of this conference, where the future of the world trading system is being decided in a country that is itself poised between two worlds of development.

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