HONG KONG, (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters battled through police lines in Hong Kong on Saturday to reach a building where world trade ministers are meeting, a Reuters reporter said.
"They”re about 30 metres (yards) from the building with hundreds of riot police facing them," the 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 people had been injured in pitched battles in the area while the government reported five had been injured, including one policeman.
Both sides were seen bringing up reinforcements as the night wore on.
Police fired at least one round of tear gas near the building, a Reuters correspondent and local radio reported.
By early evening, protesters had nearly surrounded the convention centre meeting site, which faces the city”s famous harbour front in the crowded Wanchai entertainment and office district. Delegates trying to leave the building were told by police to go back in.
Police barricaded streets and closed a nearby subway station as they poured in reinforcements to stop protesters from moving around the neighbourhood or to other parts of the city.
At one point, several hundred officers encircled a group of demonstrators who chanted "Down, down WTO". Some female demonstrators banged drums and chanted and then threw their drumsticks at police.
Many of the demonstrators are South Korean farmers bitterly opposed to the opening of their country”s rice market to imports.
Protesters repeatedly stormed heavily fortified police lines in late afternoon, eventually breaking through the ranks as riot police used pepper spray, batons and fire hoses to try to beat them back.
Some demonstrators put plastic wrap around their eyes to protect them from pepper spray, while others donned goggles and surgical masks and lifted up nearby metal street barricades, apparently preparing for another assault on police lines.
Smoke could briefly be seen rising from an area nearby and a police helicopter hovered overhead, a Reuters reporter said.
Police with what appeared to be shotguns were seen on one street.T
housands of protesters from numerous anti-globalisation groups had taken peacefully to the streets in the early afternoon to protest against the world trade talks, pumping their fists in the air and shouting anti-WTO slogans.
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. Police had said they were ready for anything.
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.
So far, however, there has been none of the intense violence that marred that last two big WTO conferences, in Cancun and Seattle. A South Korean farmer stabbed himself to death in the Mexican town of Cancun during a WTO meeting in 2003.