Asia-Pacific leaders meet for free-trade appeal

Top officials from across the Pacific rim were set to open talks here Wednesday on the global economic crisis and to issue a joint appeal against protectionism.

Ministers of trade and foreign affairs from 21 countries including China, Japan, Russia and the United States will hold two days of talks to lay the groundwork for the leaders' summit on Saturday and Sunday.

The conference centre in Lima where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit will be held

An official of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum drafting the leaders' statement said they would defend free trade despite the sharp slowdown in the global economy.

"Everyone has been speaking with the same voice saying we need to keep markets open," said Elizabeth Chelliah, chair of a committee drafting the statement.

"We have to keep the door open to foreigners. You can't close the door," she told reporters.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia said that APEC, which accounts for 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product, also had more small private businesses than other parts of the world.

"It's thanks to this that the region is more active," Garcia told Asia-Pacific business leaders . "APEC is the greatest anti-crisis tool in the world."

Some 39,000 police were deployed in Lima and another 60,000 officers were on full alert across the rest of the country.

Remnants of the Shining Path rebels on Saturday shot dead three police officers and injured another one in southeastern Peru.

The far-left movement was blamed for a car bomb outside the US Embassy in Lima in 2002 shortly before another visit by Bush, killing nine people.

Police on Sunday also arrested a Peruvian man hauling 36 grenades in central Lima.

The APEC leaders will meet in one of Lima's most tightly guarded places -- the sprawling headquarters of the army, which has been reinforced with steel railings.

Some residents were unhappy about the stringent security in the bustling capital of seven million people, where traffic was even more heavily congested than usual.

Adan Gonzales, who lives in the upscale Miraflores district near many of the hotels where leaders will stay, called the situation "annoying."

"We have problems getting to our homes and no one can visit us either unless they've been registered," he said.

Some 800 police were to man three rings of security around the airport to prevent incidents during leaders' arrival.

Peru's main labor union, the Confederacion General de Trabajadores, said it would hold a demonstration on Friday against Bush.

Mario Huaman, the union's secretary general, said the group called the march "to condemn Bush's presence as he is guilty for the financial crisis, which is having a negative impact on workers."

He also said demonstrators planned to protest at the gate to the leaders' summit, which is to be held in the army headquarters -- once notorious as a torture center.

Stretching across a dusty 40 hectares (100 acres) in the heart of the coastal capital, the army base opened in 1975 has been nicknamed the "Pentagonito" after the imposing US Defense Department headquarters near Washington.

The army interrogated prisoners there during the campaign against the Shining Path rebels, a conflict that claimed some 70,000 lives over two decades until 2000.

AFP

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