European Social Forum, uniting left-wing activists and environmentalists, launches anti-war campaign

ATHENS – A European Social Forum of thousands of left-wing and environmental activists closed yesterday with a blast against what it called wars of occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, and announced plans for Europe-wide demonstrations. It also promised protests during the G8 summit in Rostock, Germany, next year and an international day of action in support of immigrants without residence papers. A declaration approved by a general assembly of anti-capitalist social movements, labor unions and non-governmental organizations saw «signs of hope» in last year’s rejection of the European Union constitutions in referendums in France and the Netherlands, and the recent «victory» of students against controversial labor legislation in France. But the assembly also noted «wars of occupation» currently being conducted in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, in addition to the «nightmarish» prospect of war in Iran, and announced plans to hold Europe-wide anti-war demonstrations from September 23 to 30. The participants said they would also hold an international day of action on October 7 to support immigrants without residence documents. They also announced protests to be held on the sidelines of the G8 summit of the world’s eight leading industrial nations in Rostock in June 2007. The four-day anti-globalization gathering at the former airport of Hellenikon on the southern outskirts of Athens attracted some 30,000 participants, according to the organizers, most of them from Greece, France and Italy. The Forum came at an opportune moment for the European left following a conservative electoral defeat in Italy and the recent success of French students against much-disputed labor legislation promoted by the right-of-center government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. But speakers wondered whether the European social movement would be wiser to focus its energies on the continent’s own problems rather than the war in Iraq. «It was necessary for the Europeans to regain control of the Forum, in focusing on subjects that concern their daily lives and affect their future,» said Bernard Cassen, honorary chairman of the Attac anti-capitalist association. «The American presence in Iraq is not one of these issues,» he said. Disagreement also emerged over whether the time was ripe for a fresh EU constitution, a year after national referendums in France and the Netherlands rejected the draft then under consideration. But the majority welcomed the opportunity to coordinate action with activists from around the world, though Cassen noted that this function «is more pertinent in Latin America or Africa.» The Athens Forum was smaller than prior European meetings in Florence in 2002, Paris in 2003 and London in 2004, which had attracted up to 50,000 participants. This year’s event also included a demonstration in central Athens on Saturday, one of the largest seen here in recent years, which was marked by incidents of vandalism against shops, embassies and government offices. Five police officers and an activist were injured in sporadic clashes that flared when groups of hooded youths attacked riot police with stones, metal bars and firebombs. The next anti-globalization meeting, a World Social Forum event, will be held in Nairobi next January, the organizers announced.