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November 30 press reports from London: the Financial Times

At the Financial Times, reporting anything that might affect share prices is Job One. So the story leads on the egg all over the WTO's face. And Clinton's support for protesters (the decent, non-rowdy kind, the ones who pay the union subs that pay Al Gore's election expenses) got much more prominence than elsewhere, because it betokens a policy issue within the US Administration. If there was anything on London, it was so small we missed it.

We think Mark Suzman probably quite enjoyed the day, though.

Wednesday December 1 1999

World News / World Trade

Protesters disrupt trade talks

The World Trade Organisation yesterday cancelled the opening ceremony of its ministerial meeting in Seattle after protesters paralysed the city centre and prevented delegates from entering the theatre where it was due to be held.

The decision was taken after police and protesters clashed repeatedly. Despite the ceremony's cancellation, WTO officials said they still planned to press ahead with the first formal session of talks yesterday afternoon.

Police fired pepper spray at activists who were illegally occupying half a dozen street intersections surrounding the convention centre where the talks are to take place. Marches and rallies were held throughout the day by an estimated 25,000 people representing groups from environmentalists to labour unions.

However, the biggest event was a legal rally and march led by the AFL-CIO, the main US labour federation, which brought together about 20,000 protesters in a largely peaceful demonstration.

"We're basically putting a human face on the WTO," said James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters union. "It has to consider human rights and worker rights along with trade."

Starting before dawn, about 5,000 protesters occupied several city blocks. Several chained themselves to concrete blocks and each other, lying down on the streets to block access to the meeting halls.

In a carnival atmosphere the mostly young crowd also paraded through the streets with banners such as "WTO kills butterflies" or "Capital is embalming the fluids of culture".

Three demonstrators with WTO accreditation were removed by police from the theatre where the opening ceremony had been due to take place. One of the protesters, Juliet Beck of Global Exchange from San Francisco, said she had been prevented from opening a serious dialogue with trade ministers.

"Is this what President Clinton meant by welcoming protesters to Seattle?" she asked.

Although the hundreds of different groups have diverse interests and agendas ranging from consumer rights to the environment, nearly all share the goal of trying to stop the planned launch of a new round of trade liberalisation during the meeting.

Police initially took a relatively restrained approach but later fired the pepper gas to clear several intersections after repeated warnings had been ignored. Several arrests were made as dozens of officers in riot gear shadowed activists through the streets.

A large number of local residents decided to stay at home for the day rather than risk the expected mayhem. Other commuters were forced to give up attempts to get to their offices.

Meanwhile longshoremen in ports along the west coast went on partial strike to highlight their sympathy.

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TALKS OPENING:

Protesters try to halt trade talks

Riot police yesterday fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators trying to disrupt the opening of global trade talks in Seattle. Thousands of anti-WTO protesters blocked city streets, waved banners and chanting slogans as they converged on the city's conference centre where the World Trade Organisation is holding its ministerial meetings.

The opening session was delayed as protesters prevented delegates from entering the building.

The long-heralded "Battle of Seattle" got off to a tense start, with some arrests but little initial violence. However, later in the morning police officers used tear gas to disperse activists trying to reach the convention centre where talks were to take place.

Several separate marches were due to be held through the day with all sides planning to converge later for a huge rally led by the AFL-CIO, the main US labour federation. Longshoremen in Seattle and San Francisco were also planning a partial port strike to highlight union opposition to the talks.

Starting before dawn, thousands of activists from labour unions to students to environmental groups began to gather before marching towards the convention centre. Despite heavy rain at times, the overall mood seemed festive as demonstrators dressed in costumes and carried giant puppets through the streets.

Although the hundreds of different groups have diverse interests and agendas ranging from consumer rights to the environment, nearly all are trying to stop the launch of a new round of trade liberalisation during the meeting.

"We're basically putting a human face on the WTO," said James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters union at an early labour rally. "It has to consider human rights and worker rights along with trade."

Smaller groups of protesters sought to block various traffic intersections. Several chained themselves to concrete blocks and each other, laying down on the streets to restrict access to the official meeting halls.

President Bill Clinton, who will arrive in Seattle early today, plans to meet some of the disaffected non-governmental organisations.

Police took a relatively restrained approach early, but said they were prepared to move swiftly and arrest people should the need arise.

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Clinton shows trade protesters sympathy

President Bill Clinton yesterday expressed sympathy for the views of protesters at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle and said trade agreements should take into consideration labour and environmental concerns.

Mr Clinton, who arrives in Seattle today, will meet some of the non-governmental organisations opposed to the WTO ministerial meetings and its plans further to liberalise world trade.

"I also strongly, strongly believe that we should open the process up to all those people who are there demonstrating on the outside. They ought to be a part of it," Mr Clinton said. "And I think we should strengthen the role and the interest of labour and the environment in our trade negotiations."

Seattle police in riot gear yesterday fired tear gas to disperse a group of angry demonstrators, the first use of force to quell big crowds converging on the city's conference centre. The opening session of the meeting was delayed as protesting crowds prevented delegates from entering the building.

Charlene Barshefsky, the US trade representative, William Daley, secretary of commerce, and Dan Glickman, the agriculture secretary, were forced to cancel a briefing on the state of trade talks because of the protests.

Hoping to pacify labour unions, who want workers' rights to be addressed, the US and the European Union said they would press WTO members to give labour a bigger voice in future trade deals, a move already rejected by the developing countries. Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, was due to give a speech at the opening session yesterday, adding his voice to calls for WTO members to make the next set of global trade negotiations a "development round".

In a hard-hitting speech, Mr Annan rebuked industrialised countries for protecting their markets against exports from poorer nations and said trade was seldom the way to tackle concerns about labour rights and environmental standards.

"Globalisation must not be used as a scapegoat for domestic policy failures," he said. "The industrialised world must not try to solve its own problems at the expense of the poor."

Mr Annan said people were right to be concerned about human rights, child labour, the environment, the commercialisation of scientific and medical research and poverty.

But the answer was better policies at national and international level, not trade restrictions that could make matters worse by aggravating poverty and obstructing development.

"What is needed is not new shackles for world trade but greater determination by governments to tackle social and political issues directly - and to give the institutions that exist for that purpose the funds and the authority they need," Mr Annan said, in an implicit criticism of US niggardliness in paying its UN dues.

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Updated
06/12/1999

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