CANCUN, Mexico (AFP) The protest suicide of a South Korean man and clashes between demonstrators and police in Cancun overshadowed the first day of a World Trade Organization conference in the Mexican resort.
"We all regret this sad incident," WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said after Lee Kyang Hae, 55, stabbed himself during a protest. "This self- inflicted wound has resulted in his death, so we do regret it," he said.
A fellow militant said that Lee's act was meant to "demonstrate opposition to the WTO, which is killing our farmers and destroying Korea's agriculture."
Lee, who headed South Korea's Federation of Farmers and Fishermen, stabbed himself on the sidelines of a protest by several thousand people, which ended in clashes between police and a few hundred demonstrators that left several people injured.
Barriers and a massive security deployment kept demonstrators more than 10 kilometers (six miles) away from the convention center where ministers from the 146-member WTO were seeking to relaunch a free trade agenda.
Today in Cancún, Kyung Hae Lee, a 56-year old South Korean farmer, died after stabbing himself in protest of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a global trading institution that has been leaving farmers hopeless and desperate, and silently killing them the world over.
Lee was among the 120 Korean farmers who courageously rammed a dragon structure into the chain-linked fence barricade heavily armed with police and military separating civil society from the official trade meeting. After the barricade fell, Lee climbed to the top and stabbed himself in the chest. He was rushed to the hospital and died soon after.
Lee's sacrifice underscores the urgent plight he and small farmers around the world face under the current negotiations on agriculture. "He believes that if the negotiations go through, it will be the death of the Korean farmer," said a colleague with the Korea Peoples' Solidarity Movement. Lee joined the thousands of farmers who traveled continents to protest the dead end that the WTO presents, signaling to the rest of the world that he was willing to sacrifice his own life--thousands of miles away from his family and his people--instead of silently suffocating under the harsh rules of the WTO.
His death today falls symbolically on Chusok, one of the largest national Korean holidays where family and friends gather to give thanks to their ancestors for the food they have harvested.