Activists demonstrate in vain for a say in final session

2011-12-10 00:00

THERE was the sound of a vuvuzela and the singing of Shosholoza. For a while it was almost COP17: The Musical.

In the closing hours of the UN climate change conference yesterday afternoon, just after 3 pm, about 200 people representing a variety of NGOs including Greenpeace, GroundWork, Friends of the Earth and 350, gathered in one of the side corridors of the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre and demanded entry to one the plenary sessions.

“We want the negotiators to hear the voice of the people,” said Susann Scherbath of Friends of the Earth in Germany. “We decided to do it today just before the end and show our voice in a bid to influence the outcome.”

The corridor was cordoned off by United Nations security officials. They negotiated with representatives of the demonstrators who included Greenpeace executive director Kumi Naidoo, GroundWork’s Bobby Peek and Will Bates of 350.

“We wanted to deliver the message that we need immediate action on climate change,” said Peek, “and to let them know we stand by the less developed countries.”

Meanwhile the crowd continued singing and chanting of slogans: “Don’t kill Africa”, “Stand with the people not the polluters”, “Climate Justice Now”, “2020 too late” and “Occupy the COP”.

The UN security officials told the demonstrators they must leave the building or their conference accreditation would be revoked. This was communicated to the crowd and they were offered a choice to stay or to leave before these steps were implemented.

“We must keep to the highest vision of peaceful civil obedience,” Naidoo told the demonstrators, “so no one can accuse us of disrupting the negotiations.”

About two-thirds of the demonstrators left and the remainder sat down. The UN security officials asked them to leave in small groups, escorting three or four people away at a time. Naidoo and Peek left arm in arm. A man and a woman remained seated and refused to leave. The man was eventually removed forcibly by male officials, while the woman was taken from the scene in a wheelchair by female officials.

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