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WTO: Who Is Responsible For The Violence?

Who Is Responsible For The Violence?

BULLETIN # 9 FROM HONG KONG: 18 December 2005
By Dr Jane Kelsey

See also:
BULLETIN #1 - Creating a Climate of Fear in HK
BULLETIN #2 - The Antidote to Fear-Mongering
BULLETIN #3 - Opening skirmishes
BULLETIN #4 - Development Deceits
BULLETIN #5 - Standoff on Services
BULLETIN #6 - Declaration of Solidarity Lays Down the Gauntlet
BULLETIN #7 - Services Standoff Heightens Risk of Collapse
BULLETIN #8 - Democracy a la WTO

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Image From Indymedia Hong Kong

The parallel worlds of protesters who say the WTO is destroying the lives of people in North and South, and of trade ministers who desperately seek a cosmetic deal that can keep the WTO alive, finally met last night when a mass mobilization forced the lockdown of the Convention Centre. But the message being voiced by the activists was drowned out by a focus on the confrontations, rather than the message.

Several thousand people broke through barricades that have separated them from the Convention Centre all week. At the inner tier of barriers, masses of police in riot gear initially used pepper foam to repel those jostling the barricades. When several farmers broke down a panel board fence, police fired teargas without warning into a crowd that included elderly people and children.

Last night's protests have been sensationalised by the media as being a riot by 5000 Korean rice farmers. In fact, there were people from all walks of life and from all countries of the world, along with local bystanders who gave water, food and assistance to the injured.

Police arrested activists who returned to a vigil outside convention centre late last night, following the initial dispersal. Those with foreign passports were asked to leave. Those who remained were surrounded by a massive number of police, arrested one by one and taken to the police station. As of 9.30 am there were still about 100 waiting to be arrested. The police appeared to be targeting foreigners, especially Koreans. Those who have been arrested are known to include people from Taiwan, US, India, Basque, Indonesia and the Philippines. Around 30 Hong Kong residents were detained, but most of those with Hong Kong identity cards were released.

Hong Kong People’s Alliance (HKPA) spokeswomen Elizabeth Tang accused the police of inhuman treatment when they surrounded the vigil for 10 hours. People were not allowed to go to toilet. It was freezing cold. When people staging a rally in Victoria Park marched in solidarity taking food to the Korean farmers, the police brought out rubber bullets. Elizabeth Tang reiterated the HKPA’s commitment to uphold the principle of non-violence, but understood that those arrested were protesting for the same cause.

A spokesperson for the Korean Council of Trade Unions (KCTU) said the police would not provide information on the number of people being detained, but they believed that 71 unionists were arrested, including the chair and vice chair of the KCTU. He had just visited the police station and was told that police took some people from the hospital to the detention centre before they had been fully treated and people had been denied medical treatment at the police station.

All those arrested were handcuffed by plastic ties; those who resisted the cuffs were beaten with hands and sticks. There were long delays for many women who asked to use the toilet. The first phase of people arrested were strip searched. Detainees are demanding that police provide them with food and clothing as soon as possible. An appeal is being made to the Korean consulate to act as mediator on behalf of citizens.

Under Hong Kong law, people can be detained for 48 hours without a hearing. It is understood that the authorities plan to put them on trial at magistrates’ court early next week. Around 100 of those being held are booked to leave Hong Kong tonight, and are seeking agreement to their early release so they can leave. Hong Kong city officials are apparently talking to senior officials to see how quickly people can be released/deported.

Events are planned today that will centre on demands for the release of all those arrested, and the rally and march planned for today will proceed. The focus is to stress the message of the protests: those who were arrested are fighting to save their livelihoods from WTO.

A group of around 30 NGO representatives occupied the entrance of the Convention Centre this morning in a peaceful vigil. They were joined by a Korean parliamentarian who explained to the media and the passing delegates the life and death nature of the struggle which the farmers were engaged in. A statement calling for the WTO to take responsibility for the protests and to secure the release of those arrested was handed to two representatives of the WTO.

At a press conference called by the global coalition of peasants la Via Campesina held inside the Convention Centre at 1 pm French farmer Jose Bove updated the situation.

Around 900 people had been arrested, 300 of whom were taken to jail and the remainder were still sitting in the street. They had been told they have been arrested, but the police had nowhere to put them. Those arrested included the General Secretary of Via Campesina from Africa, the General Secretary of Via Campesina from the Basques and even a French film-maker Jose Reynes who was arrested when filming. They had no water or food and were not allowed to go to toilet. Those sitting in street have had no water or food from outside since last night. Around 40 to 50 people had been injured, mainly by cuts to the head. Nobody was still in hospital.

Bove insisted that:

“We are not terrorists, not criminals, we are farmers and workers who are fighting for our rights. That’s what they wanted to ask last night with the demonstration. That’s why we came here to this building, to open the doors and say to the delegates come and listen to what we have to tell you, what the farmers are saying, what the workers are saying, about food sovereignty, about dumping. These are our issues. Workers wanted to tell them 'we have problems with services, as teachers we refuse that education should be something in the free market'. It was impossible. People came to say 'look at us, this is our lives we are fighting for.' That’s why we wanted to get as close as we could."

Bove described the protest as “a legitimate resistance against what we call the institutional violence of WTO. WTO is the first violence. WTO is killing farmers, causing suicides in many countries, with many farmers being forced off their farms. This week we have been listening about the problems of cotton and bananas in Africa. We could talk the same way about rice, about everything. That’s why we are so angry and that’s why we decided to resist globalisation and why we are not afraid to outside of the law. The police said we didn’t respect the road that was given for the demonstration, but when the WTO is destroying our lives how can we respect the road given for a demonstration? We were arrested less than 100 metres from this building. That is why we made this demonstration.

“There are around 4500 here from Via Campesina. Via Campesina was not only in the streets. We decided that European and North American farmers would be inside the meeting this week, because the main problems for farmers of the world are coming from North America and from the European nation. We are farmers fighting in our countries against subsidies for farming for exportation, and for subsidies that are causing dumping in poorer countries.”

Bove made it clear that a proposed date of 2010 for the elimination of export subsidies was, “too late. The US and Europe have to change completely their agriculture policy. We have to deal with the production of surplus.”

Returning to the question of the WTO’s culpability for the events of last night, he reiterated that this was the only way people could have their voices heard.

“The fight is inside and outside. But the problem is that the WTO making this place a bunker. There are 30,000 police surrounding this building. How can we have democracy when that is happening and delegates refuse to speak to the people? The WTO is completely delegitimised and if in the end they have an agreement it will be an agreement against the people. Do any of the delegates here ask their people if they agree with that? They will never do so because they know the answer already. It is the same for any of the countries who are here. So who are these delegates representing? Only the business interests of their country. This institution has no legitimacy.

“This is not only a fight of one day, but every day, in our farms, our factories and our lives. That is why we are here. We have just been told that the closing ceremony is closed to the NGOs. Why? Are they afraid to speak in front of the people from civil society and social movements? This is the first time they have made such a decision. This is incredible. What do they have to hide?”

Asked whether Via Campesina has asked the Korean farmers not to use violence, he replied, "we discussed the march yesterday with Korean farmers. Via Campesina organized the march. As always, we consult with other farmers who are from the region. I don’t ever talk about violence. We talk about resistance. As I said, the first violence is WTO. The second violence is the refusal of them to allow the people to come here. This is a legitimate resistance for people. You will never hear from me that I condemn what happened yesterday. It was resistance.”


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