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Chaos Outside, Discord Inside WTO

Police removed hundreds of protesters who staged a sit-in that shut down one of Hong Kong's busiest streets Sunday, one day after demonstrators went on a violent rampage outside a venue for a WTO meeting.

Security forces prepared for more fighting and chaos Sunday as protesters planned another street march on the last day of the World Trade Organization gathering.

Police spokesman Alfred Ma urged the public not to join the protests because of the threat of more violence.

Negotiators met overnight into Sunday trying to overcome differences on a draft text, but failed to agree on a deadline to eliminate agricultural export subsidies. India's trade minister, Kamal Nath, said a deal had been reached, but he was swiftly contradicted by a spokesman for the European Union trade commissioner.

The sit-in protesters, mostly South Korean farmers, chanted "down, down WTO" as officers led them away in batches and loaded them into buses. They did not resist the police, who surrounded them on the major thoroughfare in central Hong Kong.

Ma said that 900 people have been arrested since the violence erupted on Saturday. He added that those detained included Taiwanese and Indonesians, but he said he did not have a breakdown for all the protesters' nationalities.

Militant French farmer Jose Bove joined Saturday's protest but was not arrested. He alleged that police were mistreating those detained, denying them food, water and bathroom breaks.

But Ma insisted that they were being treating in a humane way in accordance with Hong Kong law.

Government spokeswoman Flora Loh said 114 people, including 44 police, were injured in Saturday's violence but most were discharged from the hospital after treatment.

By early Sunday, police ordered demonstrators staging a sit-in on a major road near the site to disperse and began dragging them away and loading them in buses.

Leading delegates talked into Sunday in hopes of reaching an agreement on a text that showed only incremental progress after nearly a week of largely fruitless talks on how to reduce trade barriers in services, manufacturing and farming. The talks focused on the contentious proposal to end export subsidies by 2010 — an issue that could make or break the entire gathering.

The European Union will not accept Brazil's demand to end some export subsidies in 2010, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said Sunday, insisting on a 2013 date.


Developing nations say the subsidies undercut the competitive advantage of their farmers, and have demanded that the EU, U.S. and other wealthy nations stop such payments for export-oriented products by 2010, as suggested in a draft text of a final agreement at the WTO talks.

During overnight discussions, Brazil apparently proposed reducing export subsidies by a certain percentage by 2010, but the EU rejects that as well, Fischer Boel said after emerging from a meeting with EU ministers at a Hong Kong hotel.

There will be "no percentage in 2010," she said.

Asked if an agreement on the export subsidy issue could be a basis for broader agreement on other areas, Fischer Boel said: "Let's see. If there is a will, sometimes there's a way."

The U.S. trade representative, Rob Portman, said negotiators were close to a deal, reporting modest progress on market opening measures for farm and manufactured goods and services.

"The expectations were relatively low for Hong Kong but I think we're making some incremental progress," he said.

Fernando de Mateo y Venturini, Mexico's ambassador to the WTO, said delegates discussed possibly pushing the date to end export subsidies back to 2013, and Nath said that proposal would be acceptable to India, one of the leading developing nations and a key player in the rules-setting World Trade Organization.

The Hong Kong meeting was originally meant to produce a detailed outline for a global free trade agreement by Dec. 31, 2006. However, the European Union is refusing to open its agricultural markets any further until developing nations offer to lower their trade barriers to industrial goods and services.

"Europe made a major effort to save these talks," Peter Power, spokesman for EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said Sunday. "However the goal posts moved at the last moment. There's no deal at the moment."

Outside the convention center on Saturday, police fired tear gas to quell hundreds of rioters, some wearing helmets and covering their faces with kerchiefs to ease the effects of the tear gas. Demonstrators bashed police with bamboo poles and used a metal barrier to ram a line of police armed with riot shields.

At one point, activists broke through police lines and came close to storming the WTO's harbor-side meeting venue. The police fought back with clubs, pepper spray and water cannons that sprayed a chemical mixture that burned the skin and eyes.

"The use of tear gas was too violent," said Elizabeth Tang of the Hong Kong People's Alliance on WTO. "Police knew lots of citizen onlookers and press were there and they didn't give any warnings beforehand."

Chief WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said the violence did not affect the delegates' work.

Developing nations have been pushing for the elimination of European subsidies for exports, saying they undercut their farmers. But the EU has refused to specify a date for ending those subsidies.

In a victory for West African cotton growers, the draft calls for rich nations to end export subsidies for cotton in 2006. This represents a U.S. concession to African claims that government support for farmers in rich countries is driving many poor farmers out of work.

"The cotton industry would be very, very concerned about that proposal, and I'm confident I've just given you the understatement of the afternoon," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said.

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