To the streets

17 December 2005

Thousands of riot police here were, as of 2.30am, still surrounding several hundred protesters after Hong Kong exploded this afternoon.











Having hatched their master plan at a secret midnight meeting on Friday, the Korean farmers and unions led off a 5,000-strong march at 3p today. Near its head were the veteran anti-WTO campaigners who have spent much of this week fighting poor countries' corners inside the summit. They took to the streets bearing the WTO ministerial’s latest draft text - released just as the pre-demonstration rally was reaching a frenzy - which was a watery version of the earlier draft. , , , and the Phillipines were reportedly standing strong in the face of tremendous pressure to give ground in manufacturing and services deals..

But, reckoned the protest's head honchos, the possibility of a last-minute steamrollering by the US and EU necessitated drastic action. With co-ordination that made Torvill and Dean look positively clumsy, the Koreans rushed police lines, forcing them back at four points along a designated route. The coppers responded with gallons of pepper spray and, once the throng was within 100 yards of the ministerial building, CS gas. openDemocracy managed to take half a can of  acrid spray in the face before being temporarily drafted in to beat a drum while the protesters regrouped. Six hours later, ranks of riot police are tightening the noose on the remaining 400, and look likely to arrest the lot.

One Korean is understood to be critically ill with internal bleeding. Around 40 protesters and police have been injured, but not a finger has been laid on Hong Kongers’ property. Locals, warmed by a week of imaginative resistance to the WTO and the geniality of the Asian contingents, cheered on the protesters. With a further protest tomorrow likely now to be subdued, all eyes are on the summit. Within 24 hours (and no longer, as the venue is booked for a Bah Mitzvah on Monday), the deal will be sealed or the WTO will be in tatters. Or, indeed both. Such is the deadlock, we may now be looking at a snap leaders’ summit on trade next year. The Koreans won’t have time to unpack…

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