Singapore leads Asian reticence in denouncing corporate greed

KUALA LUMPUR Sun Oct 16, 2011 4:40am EDT

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Australia and New Zealand started the rolling global protests denouncing corporate greed but capitalist countries elsewhere in Asia were reluctant to demonstrate, with the turnout in wealthy Singapore almost zero.

Protesters gathered across the world on Saturday to denounce bankers and politicians over the international economic crisis, with violence rocking Rome where cars were torched and bank windows smashed.

In New York, where the Occupy Wall Street movement began, organizers said the protest grew to at least 5,000.

Protesters had gathered in Japan and across Southeast Asia, but in the hundreds at most. Singapore didn't even manage that.

Singapore is one of the world's wealthiest nations and a regional base for many banks and fund managers, but its long-ruling People's Action Party is losing support from an electorate unhappy about the widening income divide and the government's liberal immigration policy.

The pro-government Sunday Times appeared to take pride in the non-turnout after a call to gather at Raffles Place in the financial center failed to materialize.

"What's missing in this picture?" it asked on its front page above a picture of three policemen patrolling an almost empty Raffle Place.

SPEAKERS' CORNER

An unidentified person had set up a Facebook page and Twitter account calling on Singaporeans to protest against income inequality and a lack of accountability in the country's sovereign wealth funds, prompting a police warning.

Singapore bars demonstrations, gatherings or speeches without a permit except at a tiny "Speakers' Corner" in a small park at the edge of the central business district.

"The organizers hid behind their Facebook and Twitter accounts, posting messages such as 'we should try this again on Monday' and 'where is everyone right now?'" the newspaper said.

In Malaysia, the movement drew a modest 200 in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Organizers blamed the poor turnout on a lack of communication and fears of a police crackdown.

"Partly it's because a lot of people are still not aware we are here, because our publicity has been limited to social media," said Fahmi Reza, 34, of the Kuala Lumpur People's Assembly, a social action group which organized the gathering.

Some of the protesters held up placards bearing the slogan "Occupy Dataran"(occupy the square), then broke into smaller groups after police instructed them to disperse.

"Anti-capitalism is not my cause but anti-authoritarianism is definitely my cause and as citizens ... we came here to stand up for our rights," said lecturer Wong Chin Huat, 38.

Large public protests are rare in Malaysia but more than 10,000 people took to the streets in July in anger over the slow pace of political reforms.

Rain curbed protests in South Korea and there was only a small turnout in the southern Chinese city of Hong Kong.

"Many Hong Kong people didn't (take part in) these actions because the economic crisis hasn't reached Hong Kong yet," said leftwing activist Napo Wong Weng-chi.

"The whole economic situation of Hong Kong is not as bad as in the U.S. or Europe."

Hundreds marched in Tokyo, where many had gathered to complain about radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear power plant seven months after an earthquake triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

The English-language Japan Times asked why people weren't protesting, pointing to 2.04 million Japanese on welfare, the highest number since 1951.

"The answer is, they are, a little," it said. "The anti-nuclear sentiment may well spill over to other issues. Mass movements are not always correct, but those that last have good reasons for lasting."

(Additional reporting by Kevin Lim in Singapore and Sisi Tang in Hong Kong; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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