WASHINGTON (AFP) - Furious campaigners accused the "police state" of Singapore of leaning on Indonesia to ban a conference that was meant to coincide with World Bank-IMF meetings in the city-state.
The complaints, which also alleged a blacklist against campaigners by Singapore, came a day after senior officials at the Bank and International Monetary Fund issued their own letter of protest to the city-state.
IMF external relations director Masood Ahmed and his Bank counterpart, Kevin Kellems, said they were "very surprised and disappointed" by Singapore's decision to forbid entry to several members of non-governmental organisations.
"While we understand and agree that security at the meetings is of paramount importance, Singapore's authorities have not shared any information that would make us ... consider these individuals as potential threats," they said.
About 20 NGO members who were already accredited by the World Bank and IMF to attend the September 19-20 annual meetings have now been "blacklisted" without explanation, campaigners alleged.
The list was said to include Antonio Tricarico of Italy's Campaign for World Bank Reform, a respected NGO advocate who has attended board meetings of the Washington-based lender.
"To blacklist someone like that just doesn't make any sense," said Sameer Dossani, executive director of the 50 Years is Enough Network.
Dossani's group was among signatories to a press release that accused Indonesia of revoking police permission for a gathering of NGOs that is traditionally held alongside the annual meetings.
They said that months of planning had gone into the "International People's Forum" (IPF), which would have drawn over 1,000 participants to the Indonesian island of Batam, a short ferry ride from Singapore.
"Everything was moving forward just fine until two weeks ago when we started making press statements, and the Singapore authorities immediately put pressure on the authorities in Batam to stop this (IPF) from happening," Dossani said.
The campaign groups noted that Batam's economy relies heavily on Singaporean tourists, while Singapore is a major investor in Indonesia itself.
Bank Information Center, which campaigns for "social justice" in countries where the World Bank and IMF do business, said Singapore's zero tolerance for dissent made a mockery of the annual meetings.
"The crackdown on civil society highlights the irony of the Bank's choice to hold its meetings in a place as repressive as Singapore while claiming to be a champion of good governance," said Center executive director Manish Bapna.
"As authorities are denying public rights to freedom of speech and assembly, the Bank is commending Singapore as the world's most business-friendly country," he said.
In an annual report this week, the World Bank said Singapore was the world's easiest place to start and operate a business.
The wealthy city-state has mounted its biggest-ever security operation to secure the 16,000 delegates from more than 180 countries expected to attend this year's World Bank and IMF meetings.
Aubeck Kam, director of the Singapore Police Force operations department, vowed last week that his officers would "use all necessary means" to stop any violence.
But the letter from the World Bank and IMF officials underscored that Singapore, as the host, had agreed to abide by the organisations' promises of access to NGO representatives.
Dossani, however, said the Washington bodies should not be surprised.
"If the Bank is interested in accountability and preventing corruption, why are they holding their meetings in a police state that has openly said it plans to cane protestors?" he said.