A small group of Singaporean activists who have camped out for two days and nights next to a busy intersection distributed flyers promoting free speech Monday, surrounded by police who have barred them from holding a protest march.
The activists who have numbered between six and 10 have been squatting at a park in central Singapore since Saturday. Police have prevented them from marching to Parliament and the convention center where the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings are being held.
The protest has highlighted Singapore's stringent curbs on dissent even as it is hoping to showcase itself to thousands of international visitors as a model of clean and efficient governance with a prosperous, open economy.
Singapore's security measures were criticized last week by the World Bank and IMF after authorities said the country would bar more than two dozen activists from attending the meetings even though they were accredited by the two Washington-based institutions.
Singapore later allowed most of the 27 blacklisted activists to enter the country, though campaigners said the move came too late.
Authorities have also banned outdoor demonstrations on concerns that large street crowds could be exploited by terrorists t to launch attacks. They have provided a small, cordoned-off area for protests inside the convention hall where the IMF-World Bank meetings are being held.
A few international activist groups have demonstrated in the 8-meter by 8-meter (25 by 25 foot) area.
Public protests are rare in Singapore as outdoor gatherings of more than four people require a police permit. Singapore warned earlier this year it would use severe punishments such as caning on protesters who commit violent acts during the IMF-World Bank meetings.
On Monday, the Singaporean protesters who have camped out for two days led by opposition Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan handed out flyers calling for greater freedom of speech and assembly in the city-state.
Police allowed the group to leave the park individually and walk to Raffles Place, at the heart of Singapore's business district, to distribute flyers after they promised not to resume their march.
"We are protesting against the denial of the rights of Singaporeans to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. These rights are crucial in helping to protect our interests," said Chee.
The demonstrators then returned to the park, where they have been sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes or on the bare pavement, taking shelter in telephone booths when it rains. Their friends and families have brought them food, drink and fresh clothing.
Police have accompanied Chee, as well as his sister Chee Siok Chin, a senior member of the opposition party, on visits to the public lavatory in the park. At least five police video cameras are constantly recording the protesters and anyone who talks to them.
Chee said the protesters will remain at the park until Tuesday, when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong makes a speech to the IMF-World Bank delegates.
Back at the convention center, a separate group of activists held a protest Monday within the designated demonstration space, calling on the two Washington-based institutions to reduce conditions tied to relief for poor countries.
Twelve protesters with blue strings tied around their bodies shouted, "Cut the strings," and "Stop hurting poor people."
"As part of their aid and debt relief, the World Bank and IMF insist that countries satisfy all sorts of economic conditions, such as forced privatization, trade liberalization, fiscal reforms, and we think these should not be imposed by unelected bureaucrats in Washington," said Trisha Rogers, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, a U.K.-based coalition of activist groups working for the cancellation of poor countries' debts.