A South Korean man killed himself, and several other militants were injured in clashes with police during a protest against a World Trade Organization conference in the Mexican resort of Cancun.
Lee Kyang Hae, 55, who headed South Korea's Federation of Farmers and Fishermen, stabbed himself in protest against the WTO, "which destroys Korea's economy and its agriculture," a fellow-militant said.
"His death is not a personal accident but reflects the desperate fighting of 3.5 million Korean farmers," said Song Nan Sou, president of the Farmers Management Association, one of several South Korean groups taking part in demonstrations at the Mexican seaside resort.
Korean farmer Lee Kyung-hae (L) shouts slogans as he sits atop a barricade, blocking access to the road to Cancun's hotel strip, which is hosting a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, September 10, 2003. Lee later stabbed himself in the chest shortly afterwards and died of his wounds in hospital. A friend said his suicide was an 'act of sacrifice' to show his disgust at the WTO and its policies. REUTERS/Daniel Aguilar
Lee was believed to be the same man who stabbed and wounded himself in the entrance hall of the Geneva headquarters of GATT, the precursor of the WTO, in 1993.
Wednesday's dramatic suicide protest took place as ministers from 146 nations launched a five-day WTO conference aimed at breaking a two-year deadlock in trade liberalization talks.
"We all regret this sad incident," WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said after Lee died in a Cancun hospital.
"This self-inflicted wound has resulted in his death, so we do regret it," he said.
The US delegation also expressed sadness at the death.
"It's always unfortunate to see loss of life in a situation like this," said spokesman Richard Mill. "It's sad and it's unfortunate," he said.
About 100 South Korean protesters later staged a silent sit-down outside the hospital where Lee had been taken with a punctured lung.
They unfurled a blanket on which they had written: "WTO kills."
Lee stabbed himself on the sidelines of a protest by several thousand people, which ended in clashes between police and a few hundred demonstrators.
Several people were injured as police used teargas and batons to disperse demonstrators who hurled rocks and other projectiles at security forces and tried to force their way through a barrier blocking the route from downtown Cancun to the conference venue.
Barriers and a massive security force deployment kept the demonstrators more than 10 kilometers (six miles) away from the convention center hosting the WTO conference.
Chanting "no to trade" and "no to the WTO," the demonstrators marched through the center of Cancun, totally cut off from the narrow strip of land, known as the hotel zone, where the convention center is located.
Americans, Koreans and Europeans joined Mexican students and peasants in the protest.
Authorities have mobilized 20,000 military and police troops to ensure the security of the thousands of WTO delegates.
Two frigates patroled the turquoise waters just offshore and police speedboats cruised the bay on the other side of the hotel zone.
Earlier in the day, a few dozen people inside the conference hall jeered WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand as he delivered his opening speech.
Copyright 2003 AFP