DAKAR: 10,000 people marched through Dakar on Sunday at the start of the annual World Social Forum, an annual leftist gathering taking place as anti-government protests sweep the Arab world.
The 11th edition of the forum, an alternative to the elite World Economic Forum held in the posh Swiss ski resort of Davos last week, brings together anti-globalisation activists opposed to capitalism.
This year participants are focusing on the popular revolt spreading across northern Africa with demands for democracy and criticism of dire social conditions reflecting the crisis of capitalism.
"What is happening in Tunisia shows that the people can become masters of their destiny whatever their means. It is perhaps this which Europe forgets," said French Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry.
Representatives from Arab countries currently gripped by popular protest, such as Egypt, took their place among marchers to demand the departure of authoritarian and dictatorial regimes.
"I am among those who demand the departure of (Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak so that the blood in the peaceful protests of recent days was not spilled in vain," said Egyptian translator Asma El Batraoui Han, 68.
Commenting on events in Egypt and Tunisia -- where street protests forced president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee on January 14 -- Moroccan trade unionist Mohamed Kabba, 65 said: "pressure from the streets, that is what gets results."
"In Morocco we are also campaigning for democracy to evolve towards more freedom," said the member of the General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM).
Host Senegal is also facing growing anger over serious social and economic problems.
"In the darkness until when?, " one placard read, in reference to the long power cuts exasperating all sectors of Senegalese society and which lead to spontaneous protests that often turn violent.
For six days, up to 50,000 expected participants are to debate and propose alternatives to "the crisis of the capitalist system", organisers say.
Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Boni Yayi of Benin and Alpha Conde of Guinea as well as former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are among the guests.
This is the second time the Forum has come to Africa since its inception in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was held in Nairobi in 2007.
"Africa is an example of the biggest failures of three decades of neo-liberal policies," according to the Forum's organisers.
"In response, social movements and citizens of the world are joining with Africans who refuse to pay the price of the current crises for which they are not responsible."
"We do not decide. We analyze policies and we make alternative proposals," said Mignane Diouf, the Forum's chief organiser.