Wed, Dec 07, 2005 - Page 4 News List

WTO summit fuels protest fears

DEMONSTRATIONS With thousands of disgruntled protesters expected to arrive in Hong Kong for next week's summit, some wonder if the city is ready


Indonesian students perform a scene of poverty during a demonstration against the WTO in Jakarta yesterday. An international anti-globalization group alleged that the Hong Kong and Indonesian authorities tried to discourage its members from participating in protests planned for the upcoming WTO summit in Hong Kong.


Radical protesters smashing shop windows and club-wielding police often grab the spotlight at WTO summits, and -- with 10,000 demonstrators expected -- fears are that similar violence will bedevil next week's WTO meeting in Hong Kong.

It will be the first time this orderly global financial capital has had to deal with so many international protesters, though most of them will likely push for their diverse causes in more peaceful, creative ways, such as street theater or workshops.

They will be coming for the summit that runs next Tuesday through Sunday from around the world -- Pakistani fishermen, South Korean farmers and Argentine environmentalists.

Despite their diversity, the protesters have a unifying complaint: that WTO's goal of reducing trade barriers brings pain and ruin by threatening livelihoods, land and ways of life.

One group known for fierce battles with police and dramatic gestures to highlight its cause, the Korean Peasants League, plans to send 1,400 farmers.

Last month, two league activists committed suicide by drinking herbicide to protest legislation opening South Korea's rice market, and one stabbed himself to death the WTO summit in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003.

The group is fighting to derail the WTO's aim to lower barriers for agricultural imports, which league officials say will flood the South Korean market with cheap rice and other food and bankrupt them.

"We believe there shouldn't be talks on agriculture at WTO at all. We demand an end to WTO talks," Kim Hwang Kyeong-san, a league spokeswoman, told reporters.

She said the group is planning a peaceful march in Hong Kong but added, "We will try to block the meeting, using our whole bodies."

Diverse groups are coordinating three major marches throughout the week outside the conference hall, said Mabel Au of the Hong Kong Peoples Alliance, a coalition of 33 local grassroots groups that has been liaising with about 5,000 overseas protesters who plan to come here.

The first march -- to be held on Monday, the eve of the talks -- will focus on local concerns: the Hong Kong government's position on trade agendas like services and industrial goods, Au said. The other two will be more open to diverse international interests, like fair trade for farming goods.

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