Curfew in effect as Seattle struggles to control WTO protests
WTO says violence did not stop negotiations
November 30, 1999
SEATTLE (CNN) -- A curfew went into effect late Tuesday, as Washington Governor Gary Locke called up unarmed units of the state's National Guard to help keep a lid on anti-World Trade Organization protests that turned violent. Police from cities as far away as Spokane also are being sent to help.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell has declared a state of civil emergency and imposed a 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m (10 p.m. EST - 10:30 a.m. EST) curfew on downtown areas of the city after violent scenes during street protests scuttled the planned opening ceremonies of the conference.
Police said violators -- anybody that does not have "legitimate business" in the downtown area where the WTO conference got under way behind schedule Tuesday -- will be immediately arrested.
Meanwhile, President Clinton was due to arrive in town at around 1 a.m. (4 a.m. EST).
Gov. Locke said he had decided to call in 200 unarmed members of the National Guard as a precaution. He said he expected them for the most part to serve in a backup role.
"You may not even see them," the governor told reporters.
Protesters vowed to return early Wednesday to block the streets in another effort to prevent delegates from reaching their meetings.
WTO officials said negotiations are being conducted at the summit, despite the disruptions caused by the demonstrations.
SWAT teams, state police and armored personnel carriers joined police late Tuesday afternoon in standoffs with protesters downtown. Police in full riot gear first used pepper gas and then tear gas to try to clear the streets to allow delegates to reach the conference center.
At least 19 protesters were arrested, six minor injuries were reported and sections of the downtown area were impenetrable hours after the scheduled start of the international trade conference that attracted 6,000 delegates from 135 countries.
The protesters -- environmental activists and other more radical demonstrators who are demanding the abolition of the WTO -- tried to prevent delegates from leaving their hotels, blocked access to conference facilities, broke store windows and spray-painted building walls and police cars with anti-WTO graffiti.
The opening ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. (1 p.m. EST), was postponed indefinitely. The plenary session at the main convention center was rescheduled to start an hour late at 3 p.m. (6 p.m. EST), but was delayed another half-hour before it finally got under way.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a scheduled speaker at opening ceremonies, was among those who was prevented for hours from leaving his hotel, a spokesman at the United Nations told CNN.
Shortly after 6 p.m., a police line formed on either side of an armored vehicle to block mobs of protesters at the intersection of Fourth and Union streets in the heart of the downtown area and fired more volleys of tear gas into the crowds. Flames erupted in a nearby garbage dumpster.
The disturbances, which covered a several-block area near the main convention hall, started hours before an AFL-CIO-sponsored march by some 20,000 labor activists from Memorial Stadium to the downtown area. Police tried to divert those marchers to avoid a direct convergence with the downtown protesters.
"We want to protect the rights of all those here to express their beliefs," said Seattle Police Officer David Ellithorpe. "But criminal behavior will not be tolerated."
Police at first said only pepper spray was used against the protesters, but Chief Norm Stamper later confirmed tear gas also had been fired into their ranks, at one point causing a cloud of thick, hazy smoke that floated over the crowds.
"Warnings were administered," Stamper said. "This gas is more than inconvenient. It really hurts, it stings, and it's intended to drive people away in a potentially violent situation.
"I certainly support the use. I've personally been present at two or three of these scenes this morning, and I think our officers are exercising remarkable restraint in the face of ... very provocative."
Officers sprayed the protesters with fire extinguishers and fired tear canisters from paintball-type guns. In one clash, police hit protesters with clubs.
Police said the protesters started gathering at 5 a.m., five hours before the scheduled start of the conference, which was delayed by the first of several street clashes -- this one just a block from the convention hall.
Ellithorpe said the officers started using pepper spray after the protesters refused to disperse as ordered after some of them had tried to block access to and from buildings and broke windows in some buildings.
At least an hour later, clouds of tear gas descended on a crowd of protesters who were bashing in windows of a jewelry store, Nordstrom's Department store, GAP clothing store and FAO Schwartz toy store.
"Barbie Kills" was sprayed on a window full of Barbie dolls at the toy store.
"It was chaos in the streets," said Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, who is attending the conference.
"I was struck by how loopy some of the protesters were," he told CNN. "I expected a more serious group that had some message ... but they didn't. They were sort of dancing in the streets, pushing people, acting crazy, breaking windows and throwing things. So it looked like a group that was out of control."
Activists upended garbage bins in the streets to serve as blockades and barricades.
The mission of the WTO is to create a prospering global economy, increasing the flow of goods and services around the world. But critics argue most of the planet's population will not benefit from WTO actions and may, in fact, be harmed by them.
The disparate protesting groups have a unified point -- the WTO is not good for them or the world's population in general. They carried placards inscribed, "WTO Hell No," "America Repent," "Trust Jesus" and "Green Backs Unite."
"The WTO is going to write the framework that will dictate how global commerce is done and our problem is that the vast majority of people in the world (have no representative to speak on their behalf at the Seattle conference)," said Chuck Collins, co-director of United for a Fair Economy.
The Boston-based group hopes its presence in Seattle will spotlight what it sees as the dangers of growing income, wage and wealth inequality in the United States.
"We're here, along with a lot of other organizations, to say that the World Trade Organization is essentially writing the rules for a new global economy that really don't incorporate the concerns of workers, environmentalists (and) consumers," Collins told CNN.
Many protesters wore scarves or gas masks over their faces to breathe after police began using gas.
About 5,000 to 6,000 people participated in morning street rallies before the violence broke out, involving several hundred environmental activists and protesters seeking the abolition of the WTO, police said.
The labor march, led by the AFL-CIO, began at Memorial Stadium without incident more or less on schedule shortly after 12 noon local time (3 p.m. EST).
During earlier violence, said State Police Capt. Glenn Cramer, officers were "put in a defensive position" by the protesters. He said it was "clear and convincing to ... commanders that the escalation was to the point where" a forceful response was appropriate.
Activists to WTO: Put people over profits
World Trade Organization (WTO)
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