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Minor Injuries in WTO Protests

On Wednesday, several anti-WTO protesters were slightly injured when they clashed with police for the second consecutive day outside the Convention and Exhibition Center where the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Sixth Ministerial Conference is being held. 

The day's demonstrations started in the morning, with brief protests outside six consulates, including those of the United States, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan, as well as the local offices of the European Union.

Protesters started marching from Admiralty Station at about 11:30 AM to the Wan Chai demonstration area, waving and smiling to onlookers along the way.

Sudden dash

Instead of entering the designated protest area upon arrival at the Wan Chai cargo handling area, about 100 South Korean protesters made a sudden dash for it and breached a line of police officers at the intersection of Marsh Road and Hung Hing Road.

The group ran in the direction of the conference venue and straight into a riot police barrier.

The unarmed demonstrators threw themselves against police shields, punching and kicking anything around them.

Just like the day before, police sprayed protesters with OC foam (similar to pepper spray) to control the situation. But the well-prepared protesters protected their faces with plastic wrap.

Protesters snatched more than 10 police shields through a series of scuffles, but later returned them and even shook hands with officers.

The protesters took several breaks between the clashes and staged Korean drum and dance performances, while some of them sat down to smoke. They cleaned up their own rubbish prior to leaving the venue.

After the South Koreans left, another group of demonstrators, mostly from South Asia, took their place and charged at police officers at the same spot, using flagpoles as weapons.

Unlike their South Korean counterparts, these protesters did not protect their faces and were quickly scattered by the OC foam.

The protesters eventually turned around and marched back to Victoria Park, where another rally was being held.

Alfred Ma, Chief Superintendent of the Police Public Relations Branch, said it was "not surprising" and "normal" for police officers to lose their shields to protesters in the chaotic clashes.

He said their tolerance and defensive tactics were instrumental in keeping the protesters at bay.

Arrests possible

Police have avoided making any arrests in order to not further provoke the protesters, but the possibility cannot be ruled out if the violence escalates, Ma said.

The main theme of yesterday's demonstration was to oppose the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which would lead to the privatization of public services such as electricity and education.

Min Sawon, a Korea University student who clashed with police on Tuesday, said he was worried that the implementation of GATS would make tuition even more unaffordable. He said he also participated in protests in South Korea.

"Hong Kong police are very nice, but they sprayed me several times," he said.

Representatives from the Philippines were concerned that GATS would make public services such as water supplies and medical benefits available only to those who could afford them.

(China Daily December 15, 2005)

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