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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 14:44 GMT
Q&A: World Social Forum 2006
demonstration at start of World Social Forum In Mali
Poverty, debt, clean water and GM crops were discussed in Mali
While the world's great and good brave freezing temperatures and luxury hotels at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the anti-globalisation campaigners of the World Social Forum are holding two rival meetings in the capitals of Mali and Venezuela.

What exactly is the World Social Forum?

Founded in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, the World Social Forum sees itself as the antidote to the annual gathering of political and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Instead of believing that big business can change the world for the better, it strongly opposes globalisation and wants both the corporations and the governments of the West to change their ways and do more for the people and nations of the developing world.

Often described as a "Carnival of the Oppressed", it aims to fight poverty, disease and environmental damage. It wants globalisation to be replaced by a fairer, healthier, cleaner version of global trade in which poorer countries have better opportunities to advance themselves.

To aid this, delegates have repeatedly called for the 'criminal debt' of many developing nations to be cancelled.

Is it still held in Brazil?

Last year it returned to its roots in Brazil, but in 2004 it was held in Mumbai (Bombay) in India - and this year the organisers have decided to run a series of "polycentric" meetings - in Bamako, Mali (19-23 January), in Caracas, Venezuela (24-29 January), and later this year in Karachi, Pakistan (23-28 March).

A fourth event scheduled to take place in Bangkok, Thailand appears to have been cancelled.

participants at the World Social Forum in Mali
Women's rights topped the agenda for these participants at the World Social Forum

The plan is for the World Social Forum to meet in Porto Alegre every other year, while visiting other countries around the world in between.

Who organises the World Social Forum?

The organisation was founded by a coalition of Brazilian trade unions, charities and left-wing political and environmental groups.

Since 2001, it has expanded into a loose coalition of left-leaning organisations from around the world.

How many people are set to attend?

The World Social Forum may be opposed to globalisation, but it certainly attracts a global audience.

The two most recent summits in India and Brazil were attended by more than 100,000 people each, and this year's event in Venezuela is expected to draw similar numbers.

Organisers of the World Social Forum in Caracas estimate that about half of all participants come from abroad.

Will any famous names be there?

Deliberately almost none compared to the World Economic Forum.

Singer Bono, and actors Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas may be trudging through the deep Davos snow, rubbing shoulders with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan.

activists painting a mural ahead of the WSF in Caracas, Venezuela
World Social Forum events are informal and have a festival feel

The World Social Forum, in contrast, aims to be more grass roots.

But there is some prominence. From the United States, anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan will make an appearance. Her son died in the Iraq war, and she became famous last year when she set up a protest camp outside the ranch of President George W Bush.

The Mali meeting is being joined by Danielle Mitterrand, widow of the former French president and a campaigner for access to clean water.

Other delegates are the Argentine Nobel Peadew Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Geleano, and Ivorian singer Tiken Jah Fakoly.

The organiser in Venezuela hope to be joined by some of the leftist leaders from around Latin America, like Bolivia's newly elected president Evo Morales.

Brazil's president, Lula da Silva, used to be a regular at the World Social Forum, but has now said that he will not be able to come.

What is the atmosphere like at the World Social Forum?

Despite the seriousness of the topics for debate, it has always been big, bright, colourful and very loud.

The events often take on the atmosphere of an independent music festival, with lots of different traditional bands, dancers and singers to entertain delegates.




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