Hong Kong braces for disruptions at WTO meeting

They've stocked up on rubber bullets. They've been drilling with their riot shields. But there are still some doubts about whether Hong Kong's police are ready for the thousands of protesters expected to converge on the city's streets for the World Trade Organization summit next week.

Hong Kong is one of Asia's most orderly and safest cities, a global financial capital of skyscrapers and designer boutiques. It has been four decades since security forces have had to deal with riots like the ones that have marred past WTO meetings.

Many activists at past summits have demonstrated peacefully, holding rallies and marches against the WTO, which they claim is destroying livelihoods and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. But violence tends to erupt at these gatherings, often when activists are confronted by riot police.

Two years ago, at the WTO summit in the Mexican resort town of Cancun, protesters cut through metal barricades, battled with police and threatened to storm the meeting hall. One Korean protester stabbed himself to death protesting agriculture policy.

At the summit in Seattle in 1999, five days of riots inflicted US$3 million in damage to the city. Police arrested 500 people. For the WTO meeting in Hong Kong Dec. 13-18, some 10,000 anti-globalization protesters are expected.

Hong Kong officials say local police are ready should violence break out again. "We think we are more than capable of handling what happens both inside and outside the convention center," said John Tsang, secretary for commerce, industry and technology.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee assured lawmakers: "We've made preparations proactively in all aspects from the outset." Hong Kong authorities say they've studied what happened in Seattle and Cancun, as well as other summits rocked by violence, reports the AP. I.L.

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