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Protest Groups Stage Alternative Events on Second Day of Global Trade Talks


While trade negotiators met in Hong Kong's convention center for a second day of talks, anti-WTO groups staged alternative events and street protests. Claudia Blume in Hong Kong had a look at the activities of the protest movement.

An activist group sings about peasant life in the Philippines. The performance is part of a rice culture festival organized by several Asian groups during a week of events protesting the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong.

Jennifer Mourin of the Pesticide Action Network in Malaysia says the protection of rice, the staple food of most Asians, is one of the main issues for many protest groups.

"We feel with the opening up of markets, rice, people's livelihoods, people's incomes from rice production is going to be devastated," Ms. Mourin said. "That is why we have among us many groups who campaign to save rice, our indigenous varieties, our local rice culture."

Protest groups say rice should not be treated as a commodity that is subject to international trade regulations. They say rice means much more to most Asians than to Westerners - it is an important part of Asian cultures.

South Korean farmers are among the most vocal opponents of the liberalization of the rice trade in their country.

They are the biggest group among the more than four thousand protesters who have come to Hong Kong to try to derail trade talks. Protest riots marred WTO talks in Seattle and Cancun, which ultimately were unsuccessful.

For the second straight day, dozens of South Koreans clashed with riot police on Wednesday when they tried to get closer to the building where the trade ministers are meeting. The disturbance lasted about an hour and the protesters retreated.

However, the majority of Wednesday's protest events, held in a park a few kilometers away from where the trade negotiators were meeting, were peaceful.

Several organizations held a forum to discuss alternatives to the WTO. Walden Bello of the Bangkok research group Focus on the Global South says the WTO can be replaced.

"We would be promoting regional alternatives, regional blocks, regional associations," he said. "The importance is not to structure alternatives around free trade but free trade should be subordinated to development and development should be in fact the central mechanism."

Mr. Bello says while many protest groups are discussing future alternatives, their main focus for now is to stop the World Trade Organization.