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15.05.2006 International

Halliburton accused of avoiding public

By Aljazeera + Agencies
Halliburton accused of avoiding public

Halliburton, the US oil services company which is accused of profiting from US-administered war zones, is under attack from shareholders who say it is trying to hold a secretive annual meeting.

Halliburton, which was once headed by Dick Cheney, the current US vice president, earned a record $2.4 billion last year.

Its annual meeting, previously held in Houston, has regularly drawn protests. This year the meeting will be held in out-of-the-way Duncan, Oklahoma.

Halliburton says it moved its meeting to this company town of 22,500 to honour its southern Oklahoma roots. The company's critics accuse it of running to a prairie outpost to hide.

Maureen Haver, spokeswoman for the Houston Global Awareness Collective and one of 15 protesters arrested at Halliburton's meeting last year, said: "They're relocating to a city where they don't actually have to be accountable to their own shareholders.

"They're going to a town they have in their pocket."

Shareholders still include Cheney who maintains financial interests through 433,333 stock options worth about $8 million.

Protest permit

A group that accuses Halliburton of war profiteering, Oklahoma Veterans for Peace, received a permit for 300 demonstrators to protest outside the meeting at the Simmons Centre in Duncan, a venue Halliburton helped fund.

The group's organisers expect to be joined by anti-globalisation activists and other protest groups, including Houston Global Awareness.

Extra policemen and other security staff will be on hand, and a nearby school will close for the day for the students' safety.

Last year's arrests followed a sit-in at the Houston hotel where the meeting took place.

Halliburton's annual meetings have drawn 200 to 500 protesters in recent years.

The company denies trying to escape critics by moving to this quiet town, where the American flag waves on Main Street.

Company spokeswoman Cathy Mann said: "We are holding our meeting in Duncan because we are a company that values our tradition and spirit of innovation - much of which started in Duncan more than 80 years ago."

A group of Duncan residents have obtained a permit to hold a pro-Halliburton counter demonstration.

Big contracts

The company is criticised for its big government contracts, some awarded without competitive bidding. Its KBR unit provides support services for US soldiers stationed in the Middle East.

The company is also infamous among many Iraqis who accuse it of using their tragedy to make profit.

Nuri al-Muradi, an Iraqi politician based in Sweden, said: "The scandal of overcharging for fuel it [Halliburton] brought into Kuwait from Iraq, is clear evidence of what this company is doing in Iraq. No more comments needed actually."