1,000 farmers gathered near APEC summit to rally against free trade

Some 1,000 farmers gathered near a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders to press their grievances against free trade, which they claim is jeopardizing their ability to survive. Farmers have been outspoken in their anger across South Korea recently over plans to liberalize the domestic rice market. Free trade is also set to top the agenda during a summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that opens Friday in the port city of Busan.

Clashes erupted at a protest in Seoul earlier this week where some 10,000 farmers confronted a nearly equal number of riot police, and the activists had vowed to bring their fight to APEC.

Two farmers have also killed themselves in recent days by drinking herbicide, leaving suicide notes blaming the rice market plans as the reason.

At Friday's protest in Busan, farmers were to hold a memorial ceremony for the latest suicide victim, a 40-year-old woman who died Thursday. Some of the demonstrators wore traditional white Korean funeral clothes.

"The government is trying to kill the farmers. If we open the rice market, all farmers are going to die," said Lee Byung-kwan, 72, a farmer from Jinju.

The crowd blocked an intersection near a beach away from the APEC summit venue and were surrounded by police, but there was no violence early Friday afternoon.

Extremely tight security measures have been imposed around the summit venue and beachside hotels where leaders including U.S. President George W. Bush, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin are staying, reports the AP. I.L.

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