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id="headline">A Fatal Stand Against WTO
id="subhead">South Korean stabs himself as symbol

By Letta Tayler

September 11, 2003

Cancún, Mexico - The South Korean farmer, dressed in white, scaled the metal wall dividing a motley throng of several thousand protesters from hundreds of helmeted riot police.

Then he plunged a small knife into his chest to symbolize the death of small farmers under regulations sanctioned by the World Trade Organization, the free-trade group that hours earlier had begun a summit here. The farmer died in a local hospital later yesterday.

Four years after it helped scuttle a WTO conference in Seattle, the anti-globalization movement resurfaced with sobering vengeance yesterday at the start of the organization's fifth ministerial conference.

Pandemonium began soon after several thousand WTO foes from around the globe marched to the metal wall, which authorities had erected to block protesters from a glitzy, oceanfront strip of hotels where the conference is taking place.

Several Mexican youths, their faces half hidden behind green bandannas, began scaling the wall. "We don't want the rich countries deciding who eats and who starves!" one of them shouted.

Minutes later, a group of South Korean rice farmers, including the man who stabbed himself, scaled the wall while chanting protest songs and burned a fake, brightly colored coffin which bore a sign reading, "Death of the World Trade Organization."

Then scores of youths in spiked belts and black ski masks jumped onto the wall. Some hurled stones, chunks of concrete and sticks at the riot police. Others, joined by a few Mexican farmers, pushed so hard against the wall that they upended it. Police responded by firing tear gas and spraying water cannons, injuring at least three protesters.

The protesters said they were trying to march to the WTO summit to present their demands for an end to WTO's free-trade policies, which they say are helping rich nations at the expense of poor ones and turning the world into one vast string of multinational chains.

Organizers described the rally as a "warm-up" for a second, massive march Saturday in which they will again try to enter the summit site.

Mexican officials said they must block the protesters from the five-day summit to prevent a repeat of the mayhem that rocked Seattle.

The friction was mirrored inside the conference, with poorer nations in the '-member WTO accusing wealthy ones of ruining their economies.

In a speech read at the conference, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan echoed that charge. "We are told that free trade brings opportunity for all people, not just a fortunate few," he said. "Sadly, the reality of the international trading system today does not match the rhetoric."

The outside protest was organized and dominated by small-scale farmers, mostly from Mexico, who claim they are being ruined by a flood of cheap food imports from the United States and Europe.

The activists were joined by other protesters from around the world, including environmentalists in dolphin suits and black-clad anarchists. Many said their gripes against the WTO were part of a broader sense of outrage against the policies of wealthy nations.

WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi deplored the death of the farmer, Lee Kyang Hae, 55, and urged protesters not to wreak further havoc. At the hospital where Lee died, scores of South Korean protesters unfurled a blanket on which they had written: "WTO kills."

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

Copyright © Newsday, Inc. Produced by Newsday Electronic Publishing.


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