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WTO negotiators race for compromise deal
Updated: 2005-12-18 14:30

Meanwhile, security forces prepared for more fighting and chaos as protesters planned another street march on the last day of the meeting.

The sit-in protesters outside the convention center - many of them South Korean farmers worried about losing protection for their domestic rice market - center chanted "down, down WTO" as officers led them away in batches and loaded them into buses. They did not resist the police, who surrounded them with batons and shields.

Police spokesman Alfred Ma urged the public not to join the protests because of the threat of more violence.

Among the protesters was militant French farmer Jose Bove, best known for ransacking a McDonald's restaurant under construction near his home in 1999.

"What the small farmers want all over the world is to feed their own population," he said "That's what the people are fighting for."

The 149-member WTO traditionally doesn't extend its meetings and adheres to a strict deadline. Delegates have to be out of the convention center by 5 a.m. Monday because the venue is booked for other events - raising the specter of another all-night negotiating session.

"I'm staying as long as the last negotiator is standing," Portman said.

Negotiations were stalled on a package to help the world's least developed nations by granting their exports duty-free and quota-free privileges. While the U.S. and Japan had previously raised objections to the proposal - the U.S. over textiles from Bangladesh, Japan over rice imports - Pakistan also expressed concerns Sunday about the wording.

The flurry of talks come at the end of nearly a week of contentious negotiations that have produced little progress on reducing trade barriers in services, manufacturing and farming.

The original goal for the Hong Kong meeting was to deliver a detailed outline for a global free trade agreement that the WTO hopes to forge by the end of 2006.

But that objective was considered unreachable even before the six-day gathering began due to an impasse over how much rich nations should cut tariffs and subsidies protecting their agricultural markets, with EU inflexibility on the issue seen by most as the biggest obstacle.

Struggling to salvage the meeting, delegates worked to hammer out a final statement that showed some modest progress in a few areas _ but even that still remained in doubt.

They were also debating a proposal for rich nations to end export subsidies for cotton in 2006, which would be a victory for West African cotton-growing nations and a concession from the United States.

Portman said the measure would be hard to sell to U.S. lawmakers, and that he had been discussing the matter with Washington and African nations throughout the night.

"We're looking at some language right now that causes us some problem, quite frankly... but we're hopeful that we resolve that as well," he said.

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