Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hong Kong on High Alert

10/12/2005 12:43 - (SA)

Hong Kong - Emergency services were on high alert with police out in force patrolling on land and at sea on Saturday, a day before the first scheduled protest against next week's World Trade Organisation summit here.

Police said they were mounting their biggest operation yet as the first of what is expected to be some 10 000 protesters began flooding into the city.

An estimated 9 000 policemen will be on duty during the sixth WTO ministerial summit, which opens on Tuesday and wraps up on December 18.

Three large demonstrations are planned during the meeting, the first of which was scheduled for Sunday afternoon with a march from the city's downtown Victoria Park to government offices near the summit venue in Wanchai.

Others are planned for Tuesday and the following Sunday.

According to reports, police have received intelligence suggesting troublemakers are planning to storm a steel ring of security placed around the convention and exhibition centre, where the meeting will be held.

"The latest message is that Tuesday is the big day and arrangements are being reviewed accordingly," a police source told the South China Morning Post.

Police have stepped up patrols in and around the convention centre which is bounded on three sides by the territory's famous harbour.

An exclusion zone that extends about 300m out into the harbour has been set up around the centre, while police frogmen have been checking the abutting sea walls and jetties for bombs.

The authorities here fear a repeat of the 1999 WTO ministerial conference in Seattle, which was disrupted by activists who smashed windows, sprayed graffiti and set rubbish skips alight.

The area around the convention centre, where the 11 000 conference delegates, journalists and representatives of non-governmental organisations will be based, has taken on the appearance of a fortress.

Office building windows have been boarded up and overhead walkways have been covered in nylon mesh to prevent them being used as vantage points for missile-throwing rioters.

Rubbish bins in the area have been removed, while loose paving stones have been replaced and sewage grates welded shut to prevent protestors using them as projectiles.

Access roads have been blocked by large water-filled crowd control barriers and traffic was being redirected around the venue site, causing traffic chaos.

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