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Skirmishes

13 December 2005

That, it seems, wasn't the big one. True, Korean farmers rushed the riot police and got a few cans of pepper spray in the eyes. In fact, they might well have broken through, were it not for the scrummage of hacks and snappers blocking their run-up.

Organisers will be disappointed that only 2,000 took to the streets as the WTO's sixth ministerial was getting under way. Nonetheless, there is real power in concerted pressure from the people whose lives are on the line in the Green Rooms of the Hong Kong Convention Centre.

Developing-country negotiators will now be left in no doubt that, if they cave in to their export business lobbies and sign up to slash the tariffs protecting their own workers in exchange for better access to EU and US markets, there will be hell to pay.   

And, had any doubt lingered, it took our chum Walden Bello about 20 minutes to rupture decorum within the centre and lead a silent protest during the opening ceremony. He and 40 interrupted Pascal Lamy preamble to brandish pitchy placards: "The WTO kills farmers" and "Stand up for your countries."

Tension mounts here. With the Koreans vowing to crack their way in to the summit "to talk to our trade delegation" before the week is out, and with the mooted chance of a sudden EU move to cut subsidies in the last 48 hours of the meeting, everything is still in play. 

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