The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, or CHOGM, started in Perth today with thousands of security personnel assembled to keep protesters gathering nearby from disturbing the three-day event.
Leaders of the Commonwealth, an association of 54 nations derived from Britain and many of its former colonies, will be meeting to discuss issues such as trade ties, human rights and climate change. Member nations represent about one-third of the world’s population.
“We must be a more agile Commonwealth, equipped to respond when our values are tested and speak clearly when our voice needs to be heard,” Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the opening ceremony. Leaders attending include U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Canadian leader Stephen Harper. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won’t attend.
Thousands of police will patrol the event, which represents the biggest security operation ever undertaken in the state of Western Australia, according to statement on the force’s website. About 700 officers will be brought in from other states and from New Zealand, according to the statement, which didn’t specify a total number.
As Queen Elizabeth II drove in a motorcade to open the event at a ceremony in the Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre, the Australian arm of the Occupy Wall Street group gathered a mile away in Forrest Place in the city’s center. Other demonstrators include those opposed to practices of the Sri Lankan and Rwandan governments.
Commonwealth member countries, in addition to major economies including Australia, India and Canada, include the African nations of South Africa and Nigeria, and Asian countries such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, which began in New York last month, have spread to Europe, Asia and Australia, with participants opposing bank bailouts, public expenditure cuts, arms dealing and widening income disparity. A supporter of the group, Mike Anderson, said protesters planned to attempt to breach security later today around the host venue.
“CHOGM is an international gathering bringing together some of the worst rulers around the world,” said Anderson, a 60-year-old retired economic researcher with the federal government who flew from Melbourne to take part in the protest. “Those leaders symbolize the top 1 percent who are screwing over the rest of us and there’s nothing to celebrate about having them in Australia.”
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, attending CHOGM, is facing calls to address allegations of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan army during the country’s civil war.
Gillard told Rajapaksa during a meeting in Perth Oct. 26 that Sri Lanka must deal with the allegations, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. There won’t be a move at the Perth meeting to strip Sri Lanka of its hosting rights for the 2013 CHOGM conference, Gillard said at press briefing yesterday in Perth.
Amid a group waving Australian flags and drinking from flasks of coffee as they waited to greet the Queen’s motorcade on Perth’s St. George’s Terrace, Deanna Barmentloo said she hoped protesters wouldn’t disturb the day.
“We’ve just come down to see the Queen because we think she’s an amazing lady,” said Barmentloo, a 31-year-old psychologist from Perth who describes herself as a monarchist. “She’s lived her whole life in service to the community in one of the hardest roles there is. I’m a bit perplexed by the protesters and not keen on it. People have the right to protest but if they disrupt those who are just down to wave hello to the Queen, that’s not right.”
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