Anti-WTO protests rock Hong Kong

Glad some hearty souls are keeping the anti-globalization flame alive, even in the post-9-11 world, and even under the heavy hand of the Chinese state. From AP Dec. 17:

Police removed hundreds of protesters who staged a sit-in that shut down one of Hong Kong’s busiest streets Sunday—one day after demonstrators went on a violent rampage outside the venue for the WTO meeting in Hong Kong.

Security forces prepared for more fighting and chaos Sunday as protesters planned another street march on the last day of the World Trade Organization gathering.

The sit-in protesters—mostly South Korean farmers—chanted “down, down WTO” as officers led them away in batches and loaded them into buses. They did not resist the police, who surrounded them on the major thoroughfare in central Hong Kong.

Police spokeswoman Polly Ko would not provide details on how many were rounded up or whether they would be charged or deported.

The anti-WTO protesters, also including Southeast Asian, European and U.S. activists, broke through police cordons on Saturday and came close to storming the WTO meeting venue. Trade ministers from around the world were inside the building trying to wrap up their six-day meeting.

The protesters attacked police with bamboo flagpoles and used a metal barricade to ram a line of officers with riot shields in the worst street violence Hong Kong has seen in decades. Security forces fought back with batons and shields and fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

As of Sunday morning, 108 people, including 39 police, were injured, but most were discharged after treatment, said government spokeswoman Flora Loh.

Three demonstrators—two Korean men and a Chinese man—were admitted into hospitals. One of the Koreans was in serious condition and the others were in stable condition, she said.

The demonstrators oppose the WTO’s efforts to open up global markets.

One of the protesters, militant French farmer Jose Bove, said police arrested about 500 people and put 300 in jail, including many protest leaders. He condemned the arrests “as clearly arbitrary detentions.”

“What the small farmers want all over the world is to feed their own population … that’s what the people are fighting for,” said Bove, best known for ransacking a McDonald’s restaurant under construction near his home in 1999.

Bove was briefly detained at the airport when he arrived this week, but he was allowed to enter Hong Kong after the French consul general intervened.

The French farmer said that Sunday’s protest was supposed to be the biggest. But he said the size of the crowd was uncertain now because many migrant laborers were worried they would be arrested and be deported.

After Saturday’s violence, Hong Kong protest leaders said they might cancel Sunday’s protest, which was supposed to be the biggest.

But Lee Cheuk-yan, an organizer, said the march would proceed as scheduled.

Mostly peaceful protests have been held daily since the WTO started meeting on Tuesday, with some small-scale fighting between the police and South Koreans.

Previous WTO meetings in Seattle and Cancun, Mexico, were marred by large-scale violent demonstrations.