Police battle protesters at Apec summit

Anti-American protesters and riot police fought pitched battles in the streets of the southern South Korean port city of Busan on Friday as thousands of people rallied against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in the city.

Violence erupted as police barricaded roads and trained water cannons on activists trying to reach Busan’s Bexco convention centre where United States President George Bush and 20 other Asia-Pacific leaders were meeting.

About 300 angry demonstrators armed with bamboo sticks and metal pipes burned an effigy of Bush with the slogan “No Apec, no Bush” attached to it along with rubber tyres.

Police reinforcements were drafted in as the activists tried to storm through barricades, and at least two protesters were injured, including one who was carried away unconscious.

But calm returned after police using riot shields managed to beat back the protesters.

Several hours earlier, police used water cannon to stop another group of protesters forcing their way on to a bridge 300m further up the Suyeong River that runs past the Apec convention centre.

The demonstrators, mainly farmers, took to the streets of Busan on Friday chanting anti-US slogans and waving colourful banners reading “No Apec, no Bush” and “Terrorist Bush go home”.

Violence flared early on when a group of about 100 frustrated protesters broke away from the main anti-Apec demonstration and tried to punch through police lines about 1km from the summit venue.

Police responded by firing bursts from three water cannons as some demonstrators armed themselves with wooden sticks and steel pipes.

Earlier, police said they expected a crowd of up to 30 000, and used steel barriers and cargo containers to block off roads around the summit venue.

Riot police in full body armour and wielding clubs were stationed at key junctions.

Globalisation

Protesters said they were angry at the South Korean government’s plans to open its rice market to cheap foreign imports, a measure backed by the free-trade Apec forum as well as the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Two farmers have committed suicide in the past week by drinking weed killer in protest at globalisation measures, which include lifting barriers to foreign farm produce.

“We oppose rice opening,” chanted farmers’ groups opposed to WTO agreements opening the Korean market to foreign food imports.

But the anger gave way later on after the clashes subsided to a more festive atmosphere as demonstrators listened to speeches and danced and sang in the streets.

Security officials say up to 46 000 police, troops and undercover agents have been mobilised to protect the Apec leaders amid appeals from officials for demonstrators to keep the peace.

Rally leaders said earlier they were hoping for a turnout of 100 000 in the port city, which police transformed into a virtual fortress by erecting a ring of steel barriers across a wide perimeter around the summit convention centre.

Fears that protests could turn violent were fanned by clashes on Tuesday in Seoul, where 12 000 farmers demonstrated. Chanting anti-US and anti-Apec slogans, some hurled rocks and beat riot police with steel pipes and sticks.

On Thursday, several hundred demonstrators staged anti-US protests in Gyeongju, just north of Busan, during a summit between Bush and South Korean leader Roh Moo-Hyun on the eve of the two-day Apec session that ends on Saturday.—Sapa-AFP

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