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Global trade riots rock Hong Kong

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1669943,00.html Global trade riots rock Hong Kong Police fight running battles with protesters and
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 18, 2005
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      http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1669943,00.html

      Global trade riots rock Hong Kong

      Police fight running battles with protesters and break
      up demos with tear gas as WTO negotiations reach
      climax

      Tom Burgis and Jonathan Watts in Hong Kong
      Sunday December 18, 2005
      The Observer

      Hong Kong was hit by its most violent street clashes
      in more than 30 years last night as riot police fought
      running battles with protesters on the penultimate day
      of World Trade Organisation talks.

      While negotiators inside the conference hall struggled
      to agree to a watered-down compromise on the future of
      global commerce, demonstrators outside ratcheted up
      their attempt to derail a deal that they believe sells
      poor countries short.

      The result was the fiercest fighting this normally
      sedate commercial city has seen since the 1960s.

      Police Commissioner Dick Lee said 41 people -
      including five police - were injured, but only two of
      them needed to be kept in hospital. Lee said police
      have detained 900 people and were determining whether
      to formally arrest them. 'If necessary we will make
      arrests. We will not let them go easily,' he said.

      Police used water cannon, tear gas and pepper spray to
      repulse protesters - mostly Korean farmers - who tried
      to break through their lines with iron bars, wooden
      poles and battering rams made from steel security
      barriers.

      With the clashes spread out over several hours and
      locations, there were numerous injuries, including
      several Koreans and police with bloody head wounds,
      and a woman who lost consciousness amid a thick, acrid
      cloud of tear gas. At one point, protesters smashed
      their way through police lines and entered the outer
      buildings of the convention centre. However, they were
      quickly driven out by police using truncheons - and
      according to one unconfirmed report - rubber bullets.

      Miles of roads were cordoned off in the emergency,
      preventing trade delegates - at least temporarily -
      from entering or leaving the conference hall at a
      crucial stage in negotiations. 'The enemy have
      gathered near here,' explained one young police
      officer. 'There are hundreds of them, so we have
      blocked the roads.'

      The fighting transformed a whole stretch of the city.
      The red-light strip of Wan Chai was eerily deserted.
      Instead of the usual Saturday-night hustle and bustle
      of prostitutes, strippers and punters, the area was
      locked down by thousands of grim-faced riot police.

      The shopping and dining area of Causeway Bay was
      similarly blocked off. Instead of traffic and
      shoppers, the streets echoed with ambulence sirens,
      the buzz of police helicopters, the rhythmic drumming
      beaten out by Korean farm women in traditional dress,
      and the occasional dull crack of a tear gas round.

      'We had a permit to protest, but midway along our
      route the police blocked our way. That is why there
      was violence,' said Rex Verona of the Asian Migrants
      Forum. 'Now is a critical moment in the negotiations.
      We will not allow governments and negotiators to sell
      us out.'

      The demonstrators' anger has been stirred up by
      reports that negotiators are moving closer to a
      compromise package that does not include the key
      demand of many NGOs: an end to European and American
      agriculture subsidies that are destroying the
      livelihood of farmers in poor countries. Although
      there may be a small aid package to ease the
      disappointment, the most important issues related to
      global inequality are likely to be deferred to a
      make-or-break meeting early next year, while the main
      demands of wealthy nations - related to the service
      and manufacturing sectors - are pushed to the fore.

      It is still far from clear that a deal can be agreed
      before tomorrow's deadline. The demonstrators want
      wavering countries - particularly Venezuela,
      Indonesia, Cuba, South Africa and the Philippines - to
      veto the plan.

      'This protest is geared to strengthen the resistance
      of developing countries inside the conference centre,
      so they can block the awful deal that is being
      discussed,' said Walden Bellow, director of Focus on
      the Global South, who held out a copy of the proposal
      on the front line of the demonstration.

      Despite the conservative and peace-loving reputation
      of Hong Kong, many local people who saw the clashes
      sympathised with the demonstrators.

      Dozens joined the protests, some wearing surgical face
      masks for the first time since the Sars crisis, but
      this time to conceal their identity and protect
      themselves against tear gas.

      'I'm ready to join the front line,' said one
      20-year-old student who gave his name only as Z. 'I've
      never done this before, but I listen to the
      anti-globalisation lyrics of bands like Franco
      American. I'm angry at the WTO.'

      Late last night hundreds of protesters were still on
      the streets: some lying down, some chanting, some
      drumming, many promising to stay there until morning
      if that was what it took to get their message across
      to the delegates.

      'We would just like to march to the front of the
      convention centre so that we can express our opinion,'
      said Lee Chang Eun, of the Korean Federation of Trade Unions.
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