Demonstration in Hong Kong denounces WTO

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Monday, December 12, 2005

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Anti-globalization protesters in Hong Kong began a series of demonstrations on Sunday to denounce this week's World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting.

Around 3,000 protesters with signs reading "Junk the WTO" and "Life is not for sale", took to the streets in a carnival atmosphere. "We feel very frustrated with multinational enterprises," said Kenzo Sasaki, owner of a 20-cow dairy farm north of Tokyo. "Our main message is for food sovereignty. Junk the WTO."

Some 10,000 anti-globalization protesters, including groups of South Korean farmers angry at the prospect of more agricultural imports, are converging on Hong Kong. Police hope to avoid the violent clashes that marked the last WTO conference in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003, where a protester was killed by police.

Supporters of the talks say a trade deal may generate billions of dollars in benefits and possibly lift millions out of poverty, but many opponents say it would largely benefit rich nations at the expense of developing countries.

Deep divisions between developed and developing countries, particularly over agriculture, have forced WTO states to lower their goals for their sixth ministerial conference, which is being held this week amid tight security.

To avoid trouble, Hong Kong has blacklisted some people. Officials have also glued down loose pavement stones and welded shut sewer grates to prevent protesters from using them as projectiles and pedestrian overpasses have been covered in mesh to prevent objects being thrown.

Elizabeth Tang, head of the Hong Kong Peoples' Alliance coordinating the demonstrations, said she expected any violence to be on a very small-scale and easily handled by police. "People all over the world are feeling that the WTO and the way it has been functioning so far has failed to lift the poor out of poverty," Tang said.

Han Dongfang, a fellow marcher who led workers at the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protest, said workers' rights had languished. "The WTO is a double-edged sword for China," said Han. "Chinese workers have no right to organize unions, so how can you protect yourself or get benefits."

Spokespeople for the group of 1,500 South Koreans protesters said they would demonstrate legally and peacefully, according to a statement by the Korean Struggle Mission, which represents several activist groups.

The Koreans oppose the WTO's aim to lower trade barriers for agricultural imports, saying such moves will flood the Korean market with cheap rice and bankrupt Korean farmers. Joo Jei-jun, general coordinator of the Korean Struggle Mission, on Monday told reporters, "We will be escalating the level of struggle on December 17. "Any hindrance to our freedom of expression - either by the Hong Kong government or the police - will be dealt with in an affirmative manner," he added.

Yang Kyeong-kyoo, of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said the groups were still discussing protest tactics. "But generally, we will mobilize as many people as we can because December 17 is the last day to make decisions," he said.

Sources

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