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Police, protesters clash near Miami trade talks

Miami police detain a protester Thursday near the site of talks on expanding a free-trade zone.

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CNN's John Zarrella reports on clashes in Miami, Florida, between police and opponents of free-trade talks. (November 20)
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Free Trade Area of the Americas
International Trade
Miami (Florida)

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Police used batons, pepper spray and tear gas Thursday to push back protesters near the site of international talks aimed at creating a free-trade zone spanning the Western Hemisphere.

Police said 74 people were arrested and 42 protesters were injured, including 10 who had to be hospitalized. Three police officers were also slightly injured.

Many of the protesters wore gas masks and bandannas to protect themselves from the gas. At least one canister of pepper spray was thrown back at police.

Backed by armored personnel carriers, officers in riot gear pushed demonstrators about 300 yards away from the Bayfront Park Amphitheater.

Inside, ministers from 34 countries were trying to hammer out a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, a free-trade zone that would stretch across the Western Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.

Richard Mills, a member of the U.S. delegation, said a framework calling for a trade pact by 2005 had been reached, allowing the talks, which had been scheduled to continue Friday, to adjourn a day early.

Critics say the expansion of free trade rules would spur companies to cut U.S. jobs and move work to countries where workers are paid less and environmental and labor standards are lower.

Proponents of free trade insist that in the long term tearing down trade barriers between countries will create jobs and prosperity.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the framework was a good start, but a lot of work remained to be done in several areas of the draft.

"The U.S. is very committed and our agricultural community is ... committed to eliminating export subsidies to getting significant cuts in domestic subsidies, and also obviously to get significant market access," Zoellick said in a news conference.

The talks themselves have not garnered as much interest as the protests surrounding them.

Police had several clashes with protesters and used pepper spray and tear gas against the crowds. Ten demonstrators had to be treated by hazardous materials teams, police said.

At one point, officers banging their batons against their riot shields pushed demonstrators up Biscayne Boulevard and away from the waterfront hall where the meeting was being held.

Earlier in the day, about 1,000 protesters confronted police and attempted to pull down a fence surrounding the meeting site.

Police later showed reporters materials they had confiscated from demonstrators, including rubber wrist slings used to fire debris at police, ingredients for makeshift Molotov cocktails, and containers full of urine and feces.

The protests, which did not have a city permit, drew participants from various groups opposed to an expansion of free-trade pacts.

But a larger demonstration, organized by the AFL-CIO, was held without incident Thursday afternoon. The union rally was expected to draw about 10,000 people.

Trade conferences have been surrounded by heavy security since riots in 1999 outside a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, Washington.

An estimated 2,500 police in full riot gear from 40 agencies were on duty around the Miami talks.

Lt. Bill Schwartz, a Miami police spokesman, said authorities were particularly wary of "a very small percent of anarchists who cause anarchy for the sake of anarchy." But he said most demonstrators were less aggressive than police expected.

"They've come forward, they've been a little aggressive at times, so we've shown them that we're trained and prepared for that and they step back," Schwartz said.

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