Farmers clash amidst high security at APEC summit in South Korea

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This article is part of the series
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation 2005


In the lead-up to the APEC forum, thousands of South Korean farmers clashed with police on Tuesday in the capital, Seoul, to demand the withdrawal of a bill to open up the country's rice market.

Local police said that about 40 farmers were arrested. Protesters drove back ranks of riot police in full combat gear as they marched towards the national assembly.

Police put the number of protesters and farm activists at about 10,000.The farmers were stopped just short of the assembly and entered in a standoff with the police, who used water cannon to subdue the farmers and disband the protest.

"No to WTO, No to APEC, No to BUSH," the protesters chanted. A representative for the farmers said one activist suffered a severe eye injury. Three police buses were burned in the protest. South Korean media reports that 70 protesters and 10 police were injured in the action.

Busan Mayor, Hur Nam-sik, said the protests should be contained. "I cannot block all the protests and demonstrations at APEC at all," he said. "If the protests and demonstrations happen, it has to be in an orderly way, not to harm the image and progress of APEC."

South Korean farmers regularly take to the streets demanding protection for the domestic rice market from imports. The farmers oppose government's plans for wider liberalization of the nation's rice market.

"The government must come up with realistic policies for the rice market and the farming industry to allow farmers to live comfortably," said the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation.

The rally follows the death of a South Korean farmer, who allegedly committed suicide last Friday in protest of APEC policies.

About 2,000 South Korean farm activists plan to travel to Hong Kong next month to protest during a meeting of global trade ministers.

Highest Security Alert

Amidst the street clashes, South Korea has taken steps to insure against potential terrorist attacks at the forum. Civil and military forces in Busan are on the highest alert with some 37,000 deployed in the area.

Twenty one international leaders, including US President George W. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin set to attend.

Trade and foreign ministers have begun two days of talks ahead of the main summit on Friday and Saturday. Authorities have designated security zones that will be off-limits to protesters.

Over 900 foreigners with criminal records have been banned from entering South Korea during the summit period. Police say 400 others will be deported if they engage in illegal demonstrations.

Organizers said they expected thousands of demonstrators to criticize the international trade policies, which they say favors rich countries over poorer ones. An anti-APEC rally in Seoul at the weekend drew around 20,000 people.

The main security focus during the summit is terrorist threats. Although there have been no specific threats, South Korea has sent troops to Iraq and was mentioned as a potential target by al-Qaeda.

US military declined to comment on whether their 32,500 American troops based in South Korea were helping bolster security for the APEC summit

Ships will be blocked from entering the area, officials said. Anti-aircraft missiles have been deployed around the city, and a no-fly zone designated above the summit venues.

Police have increased security at subway stations, department stores and cinemas. Thousands of volunteers nationwide are monitoring public transport for suspicious activity, and customs and security checks at all international airports have been increased.