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Koreans inspire fear and loathing in Hong Kong

Farmers protesting at the WTO meetings have been demonized by the local media

Koreans inspire fear and loathing in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's police and media have been accused of unfairly demonizing Korean farmers protesting at the WTO talks, sowing fear which has caused businesses to close and people to flee.

"Korean War Erupts," "Korean Farmers Strike" and "Korean Farmers Invade WTO" were banner headlines which greeted Hong Kong's newspaper readers after Tuesday's opening of the World Trade organization meeting.

The headlines were matched by giant pictures of farmers being squirted with pepper spray by riot police as dozens of photographers jostled with each other to catch the perfect shot.

"The biggest confrontation since the Hong Kong handover erupted at an anti-WTO protest! The peaceful atmosphere has been ruined by the Korean protesters," said the Ta Kung Pao newspaper, close to the Beijing government.

Less clear from the headlines, only a handful of farmers were involved. Nine minor injuries were recorded.

Yesterday, around 20 farmers - flanked by around 150 photographers - again tried to push through hundreds of riot police before being easily repelled. After half an hour of pushing and shoving the farmers handed back several riots shields lost in the melee and the protest ended.

The local media has given blanket coverage to the 1,500 Korean farmers since their arrival, while police have rolled out one of their biggest ever security operations for the WTO meeting.

The show of force by around 9,000 police officers has turned the usually-bustling area around the summit venue into a virtual ghost-town with metal shutters pulled down over doorways and wooden boards erected across shop windows.

Many workers have been sent home, setting up virtual offices, and other companies have temporarily relocated operations to outlying districts, leaving only a skeleton staff for the duration of the six-day meeting.

Public schools have also been shut down and Hong Kong Disneyland Tuesday recorded its biggest ever attendance as parents took children away from the city center to visit the theme park.

The farmers say that most in the media have shown little interest in their hardships caused by globalization.

"It's a pity that the Hong Kong media is distorting the image of the peasants," said Kang Byeong-Ki, president of the Peasant Committee of Korean Democratic Labor Party, a farmers' lobby group.

"I hope the media won't treat our stories like some sort of gossip, but rather do an in-depth report of why we are here."

The Hong Kong People's Alliance on WTO, which is coordinating the activities of the 10,000 anti-globalization demonstrators, has accused the police of overreacting.

HKPA spokeswoman Mabel Au said fear created by the police had led hotels to cancel reservations and leave some Korean workers in the city stranded.

"The police are very panicky about the whole thing. They called the farmers rioters. They are comparing them with terrorists but they are not. This is totally unfair," she said.

"They have completely overreacted. If it can't embrace different cultures how can Hong Kong call itself an international city?" Au said.

The HKPA described the Korean protests as "acceptable."

"The South Koreans were obviously angry. They didn't mean to hurt anyone," said chairwoman Elizabeth Tang.

One farmer dismissed the clashes as a ritual. "We didn't consider it as violence. We just wanted to make a point to the WTO."

Seeking to counter their poor reputation, the farmers have mounted their own public relations exercises at rallies this week, waving and greeting onlookers in the local Cantonese dialect.

Their efforts struck a chord with some onlookers.

"I never believe the police anyway," said Kwok Hoi-ki, a 50-year-old bus driver.

"I think the government has exaggerated the whole situation. I never feel really scared because I don't believe they will be really violent."

Another onlooker, Yau Siu-keung, agreed: "They seem really friendly, laughing, smiling. I don't believe they can be dangerous."

Updated : 2021-07-26 02:09 GMT+08:00