Hong Kong Police Confront Trade-Talk Protesters

Tear gas and water hoses are used on protesters at the World Trade Organization talks. Some injuries are reported. The talks themselves are stalemated over several issues, including subsidies for farm exports.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Today in Hong Kong, police used tear gas against protesters near World Trade Organization talks, and inside the convention center, the talks may not be going much better. NPR's Anthony Khun joins us from Hong Kong.

Anthony, thanks for being with us.

ANTHONY KHUN reporting:

Good morning there, Scott.

SIMON: And what happened in this confrontation?

KHUN: Well, the protests have been building up all week. They started very slowly. Today they turned violent. Hundreds of protesters ran through the streets of the Wonchai(ph) neighborhood, which is near the Hong Kong convention center where the talks are being held. And they crashed into the police lines and they were beaten back with truncheons and water cannon and tear gas, and then they ran around looking for other weak points in the defenses. There were a few people injured, and I think some police were, too. But by World Trade Organization standards, there have been fiercer I think.

SIMON: Protesting what? For example, we read in accounts here that many of the protesters maintain they're representing Korean farmers.

KHUN: Yes, there were a couple thousand South Korean farmers here, and they were the most radical and violent. And basically, they were protesting imported farm products which are subsidized by foreign governments and they say are depriving them of their livelihoods. But there were also people from the Philippines, from South America, from Europe, all over the place, and there were just a number of causes from, you know, eco causes to social groups, so there was a real variety.

SIMON: Any public manifestation of the discord we've heard about recently between Chinese farmers and the Chinese authorities?

KHUN: That was just one of many issues on the menu. There have been--there are often protests here in Hong Kong by, for example, the Falun Gong spiritual group about suppression of free speech and activities on the mainland and there were those today. And there was also a small protest wrapped into that that had to do with the suppression of protesters over a land dispute in a South China village on December 6th.

SIMON: And what can you tell, Anthony, about the impasse that seems to be going on for the actual WTO talks inside?

KHUN: Well, for several days, the talks have been stalemated over key issues like subsidies for farm exports. And today, the ministers put forth a draft ministerial declaration, the key point to which is the ending of export subsidies either by around the year 2010, but all this is in flux and most people are still very dissatisfied with this tax, not just government ministers but also the farmers and the NGOs. So it's still unclear whether they will be able to reach a deal by the time the talks wrap up tomorrow. They will be going down to the wire on Sunday evening, we believe.

SIMON: NPR's Anthony Khun speaking with us from Hong Kong. Thanks very much, Anthony.

KHUN: Thank you, Scott.

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