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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2583

G-20 - The Club of Plenty - and Coffers That Ring Empty

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London….

The Group of Twenty, known by the pet name, G-20, met in London this week amidst signs of serious public disagreements over many issues. We were told that the French would walk out, probably with the Germans in tow, if they couldn’t get things their way, without being very explicit what that really meant. The protesters, a sizeable group of Europeans of all walks of life who are critical of the rich nations for causing global poverty, meanwhile took to the street, while virtually bringing the City of London to a standstill; they were determined to disrupt the meeting in every possible way and to have their message heard. The white-collar workers, especially bankers, had been advised by their superiors to ditch their expensive suits in favour of more casual outfits – a tense time for folks.

The G-7 metamorphosed into G-20 to make it more inclusive by offering the membership to some developing nation. However, the move did not stop the determined protesters getting more and more aggressive with their methods in getting the message across.

A few years back, it was McDonalds, the American Food Chain, who took the brunt of the fury of the protesters. It was portrayed as the symbol of unacceptable American capitalism and used to be an object for attack for years. Even then, the sensible public didn’t agree with the protesters about this particular choice: McDonalds, they used to say, offer a good meal for a sensible price for ordinary folks and therefore, shouldn’t be attacked; however, that line of argument didn’t cut any ice with the young hot-heads and the fast food chain was singled out for attack for years.

McDonalds must have been more than happy this year; it is no longer on the cross hairs of the telescope of anti-capitalist lobby – at least, for the time being. The banking institutes invited the wrath of the protesters who ran amok in the city this week.

The Bank of England building escaped destruction thanks to a heavy police cordon. However, RBS – the Royal Bank of Scotland – was not very lucky. While the plain-clothed employees were winding up the protesters on the street, they latter broke into the building. The scene was a mixture of chaos and fear: police were attacked and they in turn responded with a baton charge; both sides suffered injuries and each side accuse the other for excesses. There were some calling for capital punishment for banking bosses – sending them to gallows.

When the dust settled down, the leaders of the elite group went ahead of the meeting. Unfortunately, the events that preceded it, took the gloss off to a certain extent, which otherwise would have been a special gathering.

The leaders recognized the need of tighter banking regulations and coming down hard on tax havens. However, they couldn’t work out formulae to deal with them – at least on a single day that the meeting lasted. There was no agreement on the much-speculated new stimulus package. Instead, they all agreed upon filling in the coffers of notoriously bureaucratic IMF, which used to be accused of making things worse for the poorer nations in the past - and in the name of developing them. Since most countries look up to IMF for bail-out at the eleventh hour, this move was hailed as something long overdue.

Unfortunately, none of the proposed measures took the veil of panic off the public. As far as they are concerned, this is déjà vu. The previous bail-out packages for beleaguered banks were introduced in the same spirit, but to no avail. So, the argument simple goes, a second package will change very little in the real life.

Taking the advantage of publicity, the speculators were at it again: suddenly they saw rise in house prices, new dynamism in the stock markets and the descent of feel good factor from heaven, only to be dashed en masse, next day by actual figures. So, the manipulative trick miserably failed this time. Adding insult to injury, a series of job cuts were announced in many sectors.

Having talked about serious stuff at the round table, the leaders gathered for their informal meetings. They looked relaxed in each other’s company while exchanging pleasantries. President Obama was spotted introducing the Brazellian leader, Mr Lula Da Silva, as the guy the former loved and the most popular politician in the world. However, there were unguarded moments too that spiced up the atmosphere. Mr Silvio Berlusconi, for instance, was publicly reprimanded by Her Majesty the Queen Elizebath for being too noisy while calling "Mr Obama, Mr Obama," emulating Italian tenors, in a place full of echoes. Later on, Mr Berlusconi being at Her Majesty’s (Dis)pleasure, became a U-Tube hit!

Despite the ups and downs, the leaders were able to bring the relatively short meeting that lasted just one day, to a close on a reasonably happy note, as the worst didn’t materialised. However, people represented by them in the respective countries were careful not to raise hopes very high; after all they were all politicians who are born to personify optimism.

The exciting events of the G-20 took to a new height by an unassuming Frenchman in London on Friday. Alain Robert, the French Spiderman, climbed up the Lloyds Building and displayed a banner highlighting the need of doing more for environment, came down amidst applause of petrified public only to be arrested by police for the daredevil act. In many ways the Spiderman symbolized the financial crisis that was the theme of the G-20 meeting his week: what goes up has to come down at some point. Everyone wishes those who indulge in excesses, registered it in their volatile psyche.

- Asian Tribune -

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