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WTO 6, Day 1: Just The Beginning
On Tuesday, the opening day of the Sixth Ministerial WTO conference, delegates braced for a new round of disagreements, while the protests outside welcomed the arrival of the Korean delegation which included 1,500 farmers. Internationally, farmers and fisherfolk are among those most severely affected by the WTO’s neoliberal agenda.
On Tuesday, the opening day of the Sixth Ministerial WTO conference,
delegates braced for a new round of disagreements, while the protests
outside welcomed the arrival of the Korean delegation which included 1,500
farmers. Internationally, farmers and fisherfolk are among those most
severely affected by the WTO’s neoliberal agenda.
"We will continue to struggle because we want to survive. The WTO is
trying to kill us," a speaker from Via Campesina, an international
movement of peasants, announced to the crowd this morning.
After the rally at Victoria Park, the crowd of thousands marched through
the shopping district of Causeway Bay towards the Wan Chai district and
the site of the WTO conference. The mood was friendly. Crowds of local
Hong Kong people lined the route, and demonstrators enthusiastically waved
to them and passed out printed, multi-lingual information sheets about the
WTO. The Korean delegation made an impression with their tight formation
and elaborately choreographed chants and movements. Delegations sang,
drummed, and shouted out their demands in Cantonese, Korean, English,
Spanish, and Indonesian. Police—most of whom were undercover—were not
noticeably aggressive, in part because the volunteer marshals appointed by
the Hong Kong People’s Alliance roved the sidelines constantly, imploring
stray demonstrators to remain orderly.
One tense situation erupted when a group of Hong Kong activists blocked
the march with a banner and police line that read: “Police Line: Do Not
Cross. If you cross it, the future will change.”
“Cross the line! Break the line! If a law is unjust, then break it!” the
activists holding the banner urged a hesitant crowd.
After a moment of confusion, the march charged the line, cheering. Only
one HKPA marshal opposed the action. He eventually left the scene after
throngs of protesters continued to dash under the banner, flags aflutter.
In spite of the overall festive atmosphere of the march, one question hung
in the air. Throngs of reporters clung anxiously to the gates, wearing
military-type helmets. Lines of police flanked the Korean delegation
closely. Everyone wondered if a smaller, more confrontational march might
break away from the main march.
At Marsh Road the march turned and crossed an overpass to the final rally
site, a narrow strip surrounded by water from where the WTO convention
center was visible. The march was complete. HKPA marshals, media and
activists milled about the heavily barricaded, designated protest “cage,”
ducking miles of orange police tape.
Then delegates from the Korean Peasants’ League stripped to shorts,
strapped on bright orange life vests and pushed through the crowd to the
edge of the water. Other farmers pounded drums. They dove in droves,
leaving a bewildered audience behind them, cheering and clapping as the
farmers—two hundred in total—splashed and bobbed in the bay.
“We will keep doing this kind of desperate action because our voices are
not being heard by the negotiators. We do not want free trade, we do not
need it", Park Ha-Soon,
General Secretary of KPL relayed later. "We are sinking into debt and
losing our land and livelihood."
Just outside the protest cage, other Korean protesters had charged the
police line that blocked the road to the convention center. They
dismantled the funeral pyre prop they had been carrying throughout the
march, lit the two-by-fours on fire and ran for the police line. Other
protesters joined in, launching empty water bottles and other small
objects at the police, who responded by spraying the crowd with a thick,
orange, foaming substance that triggered reactions similar to those caused
by pepper spray.
Protesters and others who were sprayed were forced to retreat while people
in the crowd searched for their personal water bottles.
The Korean delegates advanced towards the police lines in organized waves,
pushing reporters away from the front lines “for safety.” Then at 5pm,
they stood up and announced that the protest was over.
The remaining crowd drummed and sang as night fell.
Over a sea of Koreans seated on the ground, a speaker announced that one
Korean protester had been hospitalized. Then he shouted: “We’ll try again
tomorrow and the next day. If the Hong Kong police try to block us with
their shields we still will make our way there. We will continue to
struggle against the WTO and we will continue to make attempts to make our
way into the convention center and break into the convention center.”