Starting peacefully at around 3 in the afternoon at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, the march of thousands of farmers, workers, women and migrants ended in violence at around 9:30 last night, a few meters away from the Hong Kong Convention Center where the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization is being held. Riot police fired water cannons and threw tear gas cannisters at the marchers at different points, breaking their lines. When the marchers made it close to the Convention Center, more tear gas exploded and rubber bullets were fired pointblank at the Korean farmers on the frontlines.
Walden Bello, Director of the Focus on the Global South, and Josua Mata, Secretary-General of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL), were also on the frontlines and were pepper-sprayed. However, they marched on in what was dubbed as the funeral march for the WTO, led by Via Campesina, the biggest international coalition of peasants.
“The international mass movement delivered a strong message against the WTO! Through the discipline and determination of Korean farmers, students and workers, we managed to breach several police blockades,” stated Mata.
Hong Kong people lined up along the route and gave food, water and even handed flowers. They cheered and chanted “down, down WTO!” The police guarding the convention panicked and used rubber bullets. Arrests of at least 71 protesters were made, among them Filipinos.
Filipino women from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and Kanlungan were also part of the protests. “While we choked from the tear gas, none of us were hurt,” reported Jean Enriquez, Deputy Director of CATW-AP. Enriquez mentioned that they united with the farmers and workers in protesting the WTO as it caused the impoverishment of women and outmigration of thousands of Filipinas for precarious jobs. The groups also lobbied the official delegation for the rejection of Annex C of the Ministerial text that contains provisions for the liberalization of services, including energy and tourism. “Liberalization of tourism will spell loss of jobs in fishing and agriculture, and aggravate sexual exploitation of women in developing countries,” she added.
Dozens of Koreans suffered head injuries, however, yet sat in vigil in the streets of Wan Chai through the dawn. The arrests were brutal, according to Focus and CATW who witnessed the events. Some unionists were beaten up, they were strip-searched, and were not even allowed to go to the toilet.
As today is the last day of the negotiations, NGOs are reportedly banned from attending the closing ceremony. The Filipino groups, as part of the umbrella organization Our World is Not For Sale (OWINFS), condemned the brutal dispersal and demanded the immediate release of the protesters. “Release those fighting to save their livelihood from the WTO,” was the call from the OWINFS letter to Donald Tsang, Chair of the Ministerial Meeting and to Pascal Lamy, WTO Director General.
Migrant workers, under the banner of the Migrants Forum in Asia, will lead today’s marches to the Convention Center.