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Sun 30 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Halliburton called ‘war profiteers’ in Iraq march

Five people arrested as protesters rally outside Halliburton’s annual shareholder meeting to demonstrate against American involvement in Iraq and KBR deaths

Five people were arrested as hundreds of protesters chanting ‘war profiteers’ converged on Iraq contractor, Halliburton’s annual shareholder meeting last week. The four men and one woman arrested were charged with trespassing after they entered the downtown hotel where the meeting was being held and handcuffed themselves to railings while mounted police pushed back a group of about 30 protesters who were trying to block traffic in front of Halliburton’s executive offices nearby.

In a statement, Halliburton said it respected the rights of protesters to demonstrate, but said it would continue its work in Iraq. “Even if they don’t have the facts right, they have a right to speak up,” said Wendy Hall, a Halliburton spokeswoman.

Halliburton’s engineering and construction arm, KBR, formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root, is the US military’s largest contractor in Iraq, with contracts that could eventually be worth US $18 billion. In the past year, 35 KBR employees have been killed in Iraq and another 100 wounded but the company’s CEO & chairman, Dave Lesar insists that the company will stay the course and support the US military.

“Halliburton continues to be in a very unique position, I believe probably the most scrutinised company in corporate America today, and certainly a lightning rod for a number of issues,” said Lesar.

Last week military auditors said they would suspend $159.5 million in payments for food services billed by KBR because of incomplete files and bills submitted by its subcontractors. The Pentagon is also investigating whether KBR has overcharged for fuel.

Protest organisers said the company had become a symbol of the US occupation in Iraq, and questioned its relationship with its former chief executive, US vice president Dick Cheney. “I think this is the worst example of cronyism. It sends a terrible message around the world,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of women’s group, Code Pink.

Furthermore, a proposal brought by New York’s police and fire departments pension funds for the company to address financial and reputation damage from its operations in Iran also failed to pass.

The company has said its Iranian operations did not harm the company’s reputation, and were run through a foreign subsidiary and so did not violate a ban on US companies operating in states the US government has designated as “sponsors of terrorism.”

However, shareholders approved a proposal to allow the company to increase its authorised common stock by 67% to $1 billion from $600 million.

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