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Protesters break barricades, reach WTO centre

Hong Kong, December 17
Hundreds of protesters battled through police lines in Hong Kong on Saturday to reach a building where World Trade Ministers are meeting.

''They're about 30 metres from the building with hundreds of riot police facing them,'' a Reuters reporter said.

''It is a standoff. About 50 riot police have just rushed inside (the building). They aren't allowing anyone out.'' Cable Television reported at least 30 persons had been injured in pitched battles while the government said five had been injured, including one policeman.

Both sides brought up reinforcements as the night wore on. At one point, protesters seized metal barricades which were intended for crowd control and used them as a battering ram against police lines.

Police ranks held and reinforcements pushed the protesters back.

Television later showed police bringing up what appeared to be armoured vehicles.

Police fired several volleys of tear gas in the area near the building, Reuters correspondents said.

''Police will take decisive action to stop violent scenes,'' Security Secretary Ambrose Lee vowed at a hastily called news conference.

Inside the convention centre, Trade Ministers carried on talks to find an elusive world trade deal, which critics say will hurt the world's poor. Journalists and delegates crowded around TV monitors watching live feeds of the battles outside.

Many of the demonstrators are South Korean farmers opposed to the opening of their country's rice market to imports.

The European and Japanese delegations were brought to the centre by boat for late night meetings even as fighting raged.

It was the worst street violence in Hong Kong since angry protests following the Chinese army's bloody crackdown of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.

Chinese state media was silent on the WTO protests.

At one point, several hundred officers encircled a group of demonstrators who chanted ''Down, down WTO''. Some female demonstrators banged drums and then threw drumsticks at police.

Protesters began storming heavily fortified police lines in late afternoon, breaking through ranks of police who used pepper spray, batons and fire hoses to try to beat them back.

Thousands of protesters from numerous anti-globalisation groups had taken peacefully to the streets in the early afternoon. As the first of the marchers reached police lines, they handed the officers pink and yellow roses and released yellow balloons printed with the words ''No, no WTO''.

But as their numbers swelled, they began to push against police lines and probe their defences.

An estimated 10,000 anti-globalisation protesters converged on Hong Kong for the trade meeting, including about 2,000 South Korean farmers, workers and unionists, who have a reputation as the most militant anti-globalisation group in Asia. Reuters

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