Thursday, November 17, 2005

As Hong Kong Prepares for the Ministerial Conference

HK prepares to deal with unrest at meeting

November 10, 2005

Protests and demonstrations have plagued the World Trade Organisation's ministerial conferences for many years. The upcoming meeting of trade ministers from 148 economies in Hong Kong next month is expected to be no exception.

It has been estimated by the host country authorities involved in the logistics of the meeting that about 22,000-26,000 people will come to Hong Kong for the mid-December conference. Approximately 10,000 are expected to be protesters.

One-fifth of those are expected to be young farmers from South Korea, a country with a vocal farm lobby and relatively high tariff barriers to imports.

South Korean participants will be in the spotlight at the up and coming WTO meeting following the suicide of a middle-aged male South Korean farmer a couple of years ago during a protest at the Cancun meeting of the WTO ministerial conference.

''The media has kept asking how do you plan for suicide? The South Korean activists were upset, This sort of question does not make sense.'' Mabel Au, international liaison officer of the Hong Kong People's Alliance (HKPA) on WTO said at a briefing for journalists in Hong Kong last week.

HKPA is the main co-ordinator for NGOs from other countries, most of which are based in Asia.
Looking back at the pictures of the riots in Seattle where the WTO ministers met in 1999, protests have long been a common sight at the organisation's meetings.

To combat potential demonstrations which could lead to violence and exploitation by criminals, the Hong Kong administration has drawn up a plan to deal with any unrest, focusing particularly on the first and last days of the six day-meeting.

''[From 2002-2004], our police were sent to observe a number of protests and demonstrations at various events like the G-8 meetings, the International Monetary Fund meetings and even those in Cancun,'' said Alfred Ma, deputy head of Hong Kong Ministerial Conference Coordination Office.

Under the plan, the shoreline and area around the heavily booked Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will be a closed off. Police on guard have also received special training to cope with any protests.

Miss Au said all NGO alliances were committed to peaceful protests.

She pointed out that communication would be key to coping with protesters. Bearing in mind that they will come from different countries, there will be one language marshall for every 12 coming to Hong Kong for the meeting.

''Sometimes the protestors think they are doing something which is good for their country, but in other countries it is not seen that way, and this is because of language and cultural differences,''she said.

NGO alliances plan to hold demonstrations on Dec 11, 13 and 18 during the conference, as well as run various seminars at the same time.

While the delegation is busy managing logistics to avoid trouble, officials from the European Union have been busy too, preparing the entry of the trade bloc's 10 new members to the conference. The new countries joined the EU in May 2004.

The EU has spent a year preparing for the logistics involved for their delegation, an official said.


"How do plan for a suicide?" The question itself defies logic.

We are demonstrating, regardless of language, for a universal good. We are here, a representation of life, to fight for the well-being of the people in less fortunate countries. We are here to make a point, to make the lives of others better, not take away our own lives.

We are here to appeal not haunt.

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