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Protesters march on WTO meeting

Staff and wires

Police arrested about 15 protesters during a march through Sydney's central business district on Thursday
Police arrested about 15 protesters during a march through Sydney's central business district on Thursday

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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Trade ministers from around the world are meeting in fortress-like conditions Friday at the Sydney Olympic site, as anti-globalization protesters clash with police outside.

About 1000 protesters have converged on the western Sydney suburb of Homebush, venue for the 2000 Olympic Games, where the 25 trade ministers are holding a mini-summit ahead of next year's World Trade Organization (WTO) full conference in Mexico.

The meeting hotel is surrounded by a 3-kilometer concrete and steel barrier and access is heavily restricted.

About 200 police, including mounted police and dog squads, are arrayed in several lines on both sides of the barrier, facing the protesters.

Helicopter television coverage of the locked-down site showed police arresting people and putting them in police vans after some protesters tore down a section of the wire mesh fencing.

City scuffles

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick confirmed the US and Australia would start talks on a free trade agreement
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick confirmed the US and Australia would start talks on a free trade agreement

The protests at the Homebush site follow scuffles in Sydney's central business district on Thursday when 1,500 demonstrators marched through city streets. About 15 arrests were made. (Full story)

The informal meeting of trade ministers is the first since the WTO's Doha round of talks last year.

Among those attending are WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi, Japan's Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, South Korea's Trade Minister Hwang Doo-yun, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who confirmed on Thursday that the U.S. and Australia would begin talks on a free trade agreement early next year. (Full story)

Supachai, a former deputy prime minister of Thailand, has said the Sydney talks will seek ways to make cheap medicines available to developing nations to fight HIV-AIDS and other deadly diseases while preserving intellectual property rights of the world's drug companies.

Supachai said such a proposal was a "moral imperative" as well as an economic and social necessity.

More details of the drug proposal are expected at a press conference later in the day.

"Hotel security is very tight. You cannot move between floors," a Reuters correspondent inside the venue reported.

Singing songs

There were scuffles in city during the anti-globalization protest march
There were scuffles in city during the anti-globalization protest march

Most of the protesters are peaceful, singing songs, banging drums and carrying banners with themes that range from anti-globalization, to animal liberation, freeing refugees held in detention centers, and opposition to war with Iraq.

"Our point is to try and shut down the WTO," Diane Field from the Socialist Alternative told reporters, according to Reuters news agency.

"If there is going to be violence it is going to come from the police. There is only one group that comes to every event armed and that is the police," Field said.

"The WTO represents symbolically all that is wrong with corporate globalization --that the world should be run to increase profits at the expense of the rest of the world."



Reuters contributed to this report.


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