Hong Kong braces for anti-WTO rally

Thousands of anti-globalisation activists gathered in Hong Kong on Tuesday watched by a huge security operation aimed at preventing a repeat of violence which has rocked previous World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings.

Protesters from international unions, NGOs and political parties chanted slogans and waved colourful banners as they prepared to march through Hong Kong to coincide with the start of the WTO’s ministerial meeting.

Under banners that read “No WTO”, “Junk the WTO” and “Fair trade for all”, some protesters are calling for the dissolution of the world body while others urge the talks to pay more heed to the needs of the poor.

Although the crowd swelling Victoria Park, in the city’s busy Causeway Bay shopping district, was in a buoyant mood, police were braced for trouble following intelligence reports that radical activists were planning to storm the summit barricades.

Knots of heavily armed police patrolled the march route, which will take protesters past some of the most expensive real estate in Hong Kong as well the city’s luxury car dealerships—a target of rioters during violent protests in other cities.

Further lines of police and 3m-tall water-filled barricades enforced a 1,5km exclusion zone around the exhibition centre where the WTO meeting is taking place.

Stores within the vicinity of the march route were also boarded up in anticipation of violence that marred protests at previous WTO meetings in Seattle in 1999 and in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003.

“I’m very confident that preparations that we have made can cope with any scenario,” police commissioner Dick Lee told reporters on the eve of the six-day meeting.

Much of the media’s focus was on a delegation of about 1 500 militant South Korean farmers who on Monday had vowed to step up their so-far peaceful demonstrations, even warning that they had not ruled out suicide.

At least two Korean farmers have publicly killed themselves during international gatherings to protest against proposed reductions to Korean farm subsidies they say will put rice farmers out of work.

Jung Jiyoung, spokesperson for the delegation, said the Koreans are upset at being demonised as troublemakers.

“We have repeatedly said we will hold a protest rally according to the principle of non-violence and peace,” Jung said. “But few seem to believe it here. We will stick to the principle of non-violence and peace in our street demonstrations.”

The city has been girding itself for trouble.

Authorities have shut down an entire section of the city around the summit venue, the harbourside Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, and deployed 9 000 officers along with another 1 500 temporary marshals and security guards.

Civic authorities have removed street furniture, fixed loose paving stones and strapped down steel covers over sewage drain grilles to prevent them being used as missiles or hiding places.

Ordinary Hong Kongers have also been taking no chances.
Many stayed away from work on Monday to avoid the expected traffic congestion—which largely failed to materialise—and many shops and restaurants have boarded up their windows in expectation of clashes with police.

A rally by several thousands anti-globalisation protesters on Sunday passed off peacefully.—Sapa-AFP

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