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Reporter's diary: Peaceful rallies

Early anti-WTO protests are noisy, but restrained

By David Challenger
CNN

SPECIAL REPORT

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS

World Trade Organization (WTO)
Hong Kong
Riots

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- "High Risk," my security advisory report ominously glared in bold type, as I read the estimated dangers for the anti-WTO public rally Tuesday in Hong Kong.

So it was with some trepidation that I arrived at Victoria Park near the shopping district of Causeway Bay, where thousands of protesters had gathered to start their march.

Swarms of colorful flags fluttered in the air, including those representing participating nations, while banners loudly declared that the WTO could "Go to Hell," should be "junked," and that U.S. President George W. Bush was the "world's biggest terrorist."

On the ground, bunches of Korean farmers dressed in headbands and khaki jackets sat in circles and shouted angry slogans while punching their fists into the air.

"They've been drinking soju (a Korean spirit akin to rocket fuel) all morning," a CNN colleague whispered to me forlornly.

Oh dear, I thought.

The Hong Kong groups headed out of the park first as John Lennon's "Power to the People" blared from loudspeakers, followed by a plethora of other groups that included the Asian Peasants Coalition, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, Focus, and Japan Family Farmers Movement.

Others marched off singing the "Internationale," while a group of Filipinos competed with a badly out-of-tune rendition of "Solidarity Forever."

Easily the noisiest of the procession were the Korean groups, who banged their drums, blew their whistles, and shouted "Down, down, WTO," while dragging behind them a mock WTO coffin.

A heavy contingent of police lined the 3-kilometer- (1.8-mile-) long protest route, as did many locals. Some shop owners and their families stared out suspiciously behind closed, steel-grid gates; others treated the event enthusiastically, waving and pointing at the colorful banners.

A noisy police helicopter hovered above, no doubt keeping an eye out for possible outbreaks of violence, as Chinese families living in dilapidated high-rise buildings peered down through their hung-out washing.

The march ended on Wan Chai's waterfront, where scores of South Korean protesters -- either because of the soju, or perhaps the lack there of, jumped into the harbor. Some protesters scuffled with riot police, and a number of minor injuries were reported.

But overall, the day's march was peaceful and restrained -- with an overall atmosphere of goodwill.

The Hong Kong tourism board promotes this southern Chinese enclave as the City of Life. At least during this early stage of anti-WTO demonstrations, it failed to turn into the city of strife.

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