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Peaceful Rally Marks End of World Trade Meeting


The anti-globalization movement ended their week of protests against the World Trade Organization with a last large demonstration. After a night of battles with the police, protests on the closing day of the conference were peaceful.

The mass rally on the closing day of the World Trade Organization conference ended peacefully at a demonstration area close to where trade negotiators were meeting for final talks.

About 5,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Hong Kong to protest WTO trade rules, which they say hurt the world's poor.

After a few hours of singing and chanting at the protest site, most of the activists dispersed peacefully.

They left behind more than 100 South Korean farmers and their supporters. They were singing and shouting slogans, demanding the release of their compatriots who had been arrested earlier in the day.

Police took more than 900 people, most of them South Koreans, to a prison in central Hong Kong, after Saturday's protest rally turned violent.

In that protest, Hong Kong police used tear gas, pepper spray and water hoses to hold back protesters, left close to 100 people injured, more than a third of them police officers. The most aggressive protesters were South Koreans, who made battering rams with steel barricades and charged at police, in an attempt to reach the convention center where the WTO delegates were meeting.

Mabel Au is with the Hong Kong's People's Alliance against the WTO, a local group that organized this week's protests. She feels Hong Kong police overreacted on Saturday.

"The Hong Kong police made us very disappointed, because [of] the overwhelming usage of pepper spray and tear gas," she explained. "There is no warning to protesters, to public, to the reporters. [They] made everybody suffer from the tear gas. We really think it is unacceptable."

Unlike the 1999 WTO conference in Seattle, where rioting protesters did millions of dollars of damage to businesses and buildings, the Hong Kong protesters caused little property damage. Their most damaging attack involved spray-painting anti-WTO and anti-United States slogans on the walls of the U.S. Consulate General building, but even that was so limited that a day later all the graffiti was cleaned up.

Many people in Hong Kong appear to sympathize with the South Korean farmers, who oppose opening their country to rice imports. A number of locals brought them food supplies and cheered them on as they were marching on Sunday.

"We came to support them," said one protester. "We know they suffer. I respect them. They are strong and determined."

The South Koreans appeared to dominate the protest events during the week, in part because of their reputation for violent action at other trade meetings. Thousands of protesters from much poorer countries seemed to be inspired by the farmers from a country that has grown very wealthy by selling its manufactured goods to the world, but tightly protects its agricultural markets.

The South Korean's many media-savvy stunts, which included several scuffles with police, the burning of a coffin and a mass jump into Hong Kong's icy, polluted harbor shaped the public's perception of the protest movement's activities this week.

Most of the events were peaceful, colorful and thoughtful. Several thousand farmers, migrants, workers and women groups - mostly from developing countries in Asia - came to Hong Kong to tell the world about the harm they think liberalized trade does to their lives and communities.

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