Anti-globalisation protesters clashed with police on the fringes of a high-level trade summit, casting a shadow over the official launch of talks aimed at lifting millions out of poverty.
At least nine people were injured in scuffles outside a convention centre in Hong Kong, where the World Trade Organisation held a jamboree opening ceremony yesterday ahead of five days of talks.
However, the protests were much less violent than the scenes witnessed at recent economic conferences. Two policemen were slightly injured along with seven protesters, three of whom were taken to hospital, Hong Kong police said.
Police sprayed orange liquid into the faces of protesters as they repeatedly rushed police lines, crashing against their plastic shields. Television showed some policemen with what appeared to be shotguns behind the main police ranks.
Alfred Ma, a police spokesman, said the liquid was a skin-irritating foam, not pepper spray. "Such action is not acceptable to the people of Hong Kong, all demonstrations should be in an orderly and peaceful manner," he told a press conference. "Police used a minimum amount of necessary force so as to stop this radical behaviour, hoping the situation would not worsen."
The violence marred the end of a peaceful march by an estimated 4,000 people through the streets of Hong King up to the security perimeter around the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The march was characterised by music and street theatre with the occasional sit-down protest. When they reached the centre more than 100, mostly South Korean, protesters leapt into Hong Kong harbour, where they bobbed in the murky water wearing orange life-jackets and punching the air with their fists.
The mood soured after that as lines of South Korean farmers, angry over plans to end subsidies, squared up with the serried ranks of Hong Kong police.
Tom Grundy, from Birmingham, said that he had come dressed up as a chicken "because the WTO is more dangerous than avian flu". He added: "The authorities have created a climate of fear and the majority of people are peaceful."
The Korean farmers have a reputation for violence. They were involved in street battles at last month's meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. At the last big conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003, a South Korean farmer stabbed himself to death.
Seo Jung-eui, president of the Korean Advanced Farmers Federation, said his members had undergone "education programmes" and would be on their best behaviour in Hong Kong.
Inside the centre, the opening ceremony was disrupted by 40 protesters who held up signs saying "Stand by your people" and the "WTO kills peasants".
The police defended their tactics and said they had made no arrests for fear of inflaming the situation further. Some campaigners said the decision to seal off parts of Hong Kong had been provocative. Mukul Sharma, a regional leader of the People's Caravan, a group launched by 12 countries across Asia, said: "We believe in peaceful protests and we believe in democratic rights and the right to be heard."
Many groups want the talks to fail because they claim WTO liberalisation policy destroys their livelihoods by opening up markets too quickly. Inside the centre, hopes of reaching a deal were dashed after a transatlantic row over the quality of food aid.Reuse content