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November 30 press reports from London: the Guardian

The Guardian went big on the protest in Seattle, which it seemed to think was on the whole Rather A Good Things, Chaps. This left its London coverage looking a bit - you know - on the one hand, Responsible Newspapers never, ever encourage police vans to catch fire near the office, but on the other hand it's different when it happens a very long way away...

Later editions ran more on the London demo than earler ones. This looks like the press herd mentality at work - the imperative towards giving stories roughly the same prominence as the other papers do, as soon as their first editions arrive in each others' offices.

Jonathan Freedland, meanwhile, asks: "What is to the globalising revolution as 'democracy' was to the industrialising revolution?". Hint: direct democracy...

But the critical fettucine-and-radiccio readership mustn't get the impression that the Grauniad is taking politics seriously. Oh no, very un-Third-Way. So that shadowy non-group of un-organisers, J18, enter the annals of mini-fame with their very own Pass Notes entry.

1am update

Battle of the Seattle streets

Curfew imposed and National Guard sent in after biggest protest since Vietnam

Riot police used teargas and fired rubber sting pellets against thousands of anti-free trade activists before calling the national guard yesterday as the biggest protest in the United States since the Vietnam war erupted in violence.

City authorities imposed a 7pm to dawn curfew on downtown Seattle, after demonstrators marched on the hall where the opening ceremonies of the world trade talks were due to start and broke through police cordons into the main conference hotel.

The demonstrations forced the World Trade Organisation to postpone and then cancel its opening ceremony, finally moving straight to negotiating sessions. "This conference will be a success," defiant WTO director general Mike Moore said.

Mounted police, armoured cars and an extra 3,000 officers had been deployed in an attempt to prevent the activists from disrupting proceedings.

But the massive operation failed from the outset with VIPs including the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, unable to get to the opening sessions. Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state, and Charlene Barshefsky, the US trade representative, were unable to leave their hotels amid police fears for their safety.

Protesters attacked shops and commercial premises, including Gap, Starbucks, McDonald's and Bank of America. Police fired sting pellets in an attempt to end the disturbances, which involved attacks on TV camera crews and the smashing of windows by chain-wielding gangs.

Several British ministers and delegates were caught up in the violence. The trade and industry secretary, Stephen Byers, told journalists: "I have been teargassed," as he arrived at the conference centre.

Glenys Kinnock MEP, who witnessed the disturbances, complained about the "intimidating" behaviour of the riot police, while the development secretary, Clare Short, was trapped behind police lines inside the Sheraton hotel.

A clearly angry Mr Moore said: "Here in Seattle we have witnessed a very sad day. I urge all people here to show the maximum of restraint in the coming days as we seek to reach an outcome which benefits working families across the world."

Mr Moore said the US had a history of peaceful protest, which had often paved the way for important reforms. "But violence and destructive behaviour have never been part of that process."

Observing the carnival spirit of much of the demonstration earlier in the day, one Seattle resident said: "This is the nearest we get to Mardi Gras." Protesters were dressed as turtles, Father Christmases, cows and butterflies and were serenaded by Beethoven's 5th symphony, Tina Turner and drumming.

However, red pepper gas was used later when several hundred protesters refused to move from the junction of Union and 6th Streets.

In separate incidents, demonstrators surrounded a police car and rolled barrels down a hill. Many arrests were made.

One of the Chinese observers to the talks said: "This is as significant for the west as Tiananmen square was for us. It is unprecedented. Governments will have to respond."

Demonstrators have been planning protests in Seattle for several months to mark their opposition to the attempt to start a new round of trade liberalisation talks. Representing a wide range of concerns in many countries, the groups include environmentalists, lab-our unions, farmers, churches, consumer groups, human rights bodies and anarchists.

Undeterred by torrential rain, the protest marches started before dawn and were expected to last all day. At least five US government security agencies were present, including the FBI and CIA. They will remain on high alert today, when the US president, Bill Clinton, arrives to break the logjam at the talks themselves.

The protesters say that the WTO presides over a world trading system that is skewed in favour of rich countries and multinational companies, that it harms the environment and acts against the interests of consumers.

Mr Moore has admitted that the WTO needs to reform but says further liberalisation is the key to raising living standards and protecting the environment. He is seeking to focus the next set of talks on helping the least developed countries.

He said: "I hope the debate is peaceful. It is difficult to maintain a dialogue if people do foolish things that disrupt the flow of information. That is disappointing."

Seven people, including a police officer, were injured and 38 people arrested yesterday after police clashed with an estimated 2,000 protesters at Euston station in north London during a rally against global capitalism. A police van was set alight, a barrier hurled, and cans, bottles and sticks thrown at police.


9am update

State of emergency in Seattle

Curfew and teargas before Clinton's speech today

Seattle authorities declared a state of emergency and called out National Guard troops after the first day of the World Trade Organisation was disrupted by anti-free trade activists.

The protesters blocked major intersections around the meeting sites of the 135-nation WTO, preventing motorcades for UN secretary general Kofi Annan and US secretary of state Madeleine Albright from making it to the opening session.

A handful of official delegates who made it through the demonstrators and acrid smell of tear gas milled about for several hours in the ornate theatre until WTO officials finally gave up and cancelled the opening speeches.

A surprised administration official conceded late on Tuesday night that the protesters may have won the opening round of the four days of discussions. But he vowed that President Bill Clinton would succeed in seizing the agenda today with a major speech highlighting the benefits of tearing down trade barriers.

"The president is very much looking forward to his visit here, to speaking to the people of Seattle, to the people of the United States," Gene Sperling, the president's chief economic adviser, told reporters at the WTO site late Tuesday night.

The Clinton administration has pushed for the WTO to consider environmental and worker safeguards when trade agreements are negotiated. But more than 100 of the WTO's 135 member nations are developing countries who have vowed to adamantly resist including these items in the upcoming round of global negotiations expected to be launched at these meetings.

Police fired tear gas and red pepper spray at roving bands of protesters throughout the day and well into the night. The goal after dark appeared to be clearing out a huge safety zone around the WTO sites and the hotel where the US president was staying.

Mayor Paul Schell declared a civil emergency and imposed a curfew from 7pm (3am GMT Wednesday) to 7.30am (3.30 GMT), a period that will cover Clinton's scheduled arrival.

President Clinton picked Seattle to host the event because no other state in the country owes as many jobs to international trade - one of three - thanks in part to exporting giants Boeing and Microsoft.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke said he decided to call in as many as 200 unarmed members of the National Guard and up to 300 state troopers to provide relief to weary Seattle police.

"It's really critical that that we provide some relief for local law enforcement, many of whom have been on duty for more than 24 hours," the governor told reporters.

By late Tuesday, police said there had been 25 arrests.

Forty people were arrested in demonstrations in London timed to coincide with the Seattle trade summit last night.

A police van was set alight and an officer injured in clashes with the police outside Euston station during the evening rush hour.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said there were 40 arrests from the Euston demonstration, mainly for public order offences, offensive weapons, violent disorder, threatening behaviour and affray.

"We condemn the actions of this violent minority which marred the otherwise peaceful demonstrations which took place," said the Yard spokesman.

Another [Another? Which other got cut on the page? Sloppy, leaving traces...] protester, Beatrice Stonemore, 21, said she and fellow activists had been cornered by more than 100 officers as they protested outside Euston station.

"I admit that we caused some damage but what do you expect when we were provoked by so many military-style police officers who were not interested in any form of peaceful demonstration."


Activists trigger security scare

As Seattle venue is closed after a break-in, delegates prepare to contest the agenda for the new round of talks

World Trade Organisation: special report

The long awaited week of global trade talks began amid scenes of chaos yesterday when a security scare closed the venue for the meeting in Seattle and attempts to kick-start the stalled negotiations were bogged down in disputes over labour standards and agriculture.

With the US authorities highly sensitive to the security threat from thousands of demonstrators thronging the west coast city in Washington state, the convention centre was closed after an overnight break-in by activists.

Although the official opening of the ministerial talks is not until today, the incident was a considerable embarrassment to the organisers, who already face the task of piecing together an agreement by the end of the week.

The early signs from trade ministers were that the problems of finalising an agenda for a new round of trade talks were proving hard to crack.

The US hard line on labour standards is strongly opposed by developing countries, while the European Union's reluctance to slash protection for agriculture is angering farm producing countries such as Australia and Canada.

One trade minister said yesterday: "People who have been through previous rounds of talks say that at this stage we have never been further apart."

He added that the really sensitive issues during the week were bound to be agriculture and labour standards, with the environment also a controversial item.

Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade commissioner, said the EU was prepared to talk about ways of reducing farm support, but was not willing to go as far as the Cairns group of agricultural exporting countries was demanding.

"They [the Cairns group] want agriculture to be submitted to the same treatment as other goods. That is not the EU position. Agriculture is about rural society, the environment and social matters, and it can't be treated like other goods. We want to be able to subsidise agriculture."

Britain is urging the EU to be flexible about agriculture, arguing that reforms of the common agricultural policy and enlargement into central and eastern Europe make change inevitable.

But Mr Lamy said agriculture had been earmarked as a special case by the WTO and that if it came a sticking point in Seattle, "it would be other countries who were to blame".

On labour standards, the EU is trying to bridge the gulf between the US, where the Clinton administration is being pressed hard by US unions, and the developing countries.

Alexis Herman, the US labour secretary, said in Seattle: "We need to level up and not level down standards. Trade is not just about dollars and cents but about people and workers."

With the financial and political support of the unions crucial in the race for the Democratic party nomination for next year's presidential election, Bill Clinton will arrive in Seattle tomorrow urging that globalisation must have a "human face".

However, developing countries and aid agencies are adamant that labour standards have no place in the WTO talks, with widespread concern that they will be used as a backdoor form of protectionism by rich countries.

The EU is proposing a standing working forum involving both the WTO and the International Labour Organisation as a way of defusing the issue.

Mike Moore, the WTO's director general, said he found "the bitterness and divisiveness of the current debate over trade and labour destructive and confusing".

He added: "Imposing trade sanctions - making developing countries even poorer - will not stop children being put to work or lift the living standards of their families. Just the opposite. Poverty, not trade, is the main cause of unacceptable working conditions and environmental degradation."

Rita Bhatia of the Save the Children Fund said: "Child labour is a development issue not a trade issue. Using trade sanctions to stop it might make matters worse."


Powerless people

Robocops face down protesters in Seattle and London: the globe's citizens are helpless before the future

World Trade Organisation: special report

What else can they do? No wonder the Free Rebels Coalition and the Eugene Anarchists are reduced to leading a flotilla of turtles into central Seattle; no wonder America's steel workers find themselves dumping Chinese steel in the city harbour (only to fish it out again). The 50,000 protesters against the World Trade Organisation, now squaring off against the Robocops of the Seattle police, as well as those in London, have resorted to the demo and the TV-friendly stunt for the simplest, oldest of reasons: they have no other way of making their voice heard.

It is a timeless rule of politics: people take to the streets when all other methods of persuasion have failed. They may chant about their power but, in truth, when any group is forced to mount a demonstration, what they demonstrate most eloquently is their own sense of powerlessness. It's the gesture of those who have nowhere else to turn.

That fact runs deep throughout our own history. Whether it was the Rebecca rioters of Wales, protesting against road tolls they could not afford; or the Suffragettes chaining themselves to railings for the vote they had been denied; or even the mob in Trafalgar Square tearing down the poll tax they deemed unfair, British history is veined with a long, clear line of protest. In each case, the rioters were acting out of frustration. Denied an outlet in conventional politics, they were forced to take their struggle outside.

This is the situation we are in today, although now the "we" is not just the people of Britain - it is the entire human race. Like those protesters of old, we face a range of forces out of our control and which we barely understand; they are beyond our reach. Back then it was the combination of galloping technology and energetic capitalism. Today it's the same dynamic duo, wreaking their havoc all over the planet. They called it industrialisation; we call it globalisation. But the challenge is eerily similar.

A century and a half ago, workers saw that their lives were being shaped by mill owners and factory magnates - and yet they could do nothing about it. The industrial revolution was remoulding the landscape, yet the politics of the day was still designed for a rural, semi-feudal society that had vanished. The cities were full of workers, yet the country was run by landed aristocrats. The economy changed, but politics failed to catch up.

Today does not seem that different. Once again the economy has moved ahead of politics. What are the big forces shaping the planet now? They are the likes of Microsoft and Monsanto, vast global corporations whose decisions influence every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from how we work to what we eat. Yet what tools do we have to restrain these global beasts? Our only weapon is national governments - and yet these have proven themselves all but powerless in the face of the mega-corporations, who grew beyond national borders long ago.

Everyone knows, as a matter of instinct, that even if Tony Blair wanted to take on Monsanto, he could not do it. Not that William Hague would be any different. A vote in a British general election can affect a lot - but it can barely touch the forces that are truly shaping our world. It is a drastic and dreadful conclusion: the present notion of democracy, the business of choosing national governments to express national sovereignty, is ever more redundant. It cannot do the job that's needed because it comes from a bygone era. Asking old-style, nation-state democracy to tame Microsoft is like trying to slow down a car by tugging on the reins.

The protesters in Seattle know that; that's why they're not wasting their time on conventional politics. By their actions, they are demanding a 21st-century equivalent of the shift from aristocratic rule to universal suffrage sought in the last century. Back then the political response to industrialisation was mass democracy. But what should the response be now?

No one seems to know the answer - yet increasingly politicians, and people, are asking the question. Until now, globalisation has been discussed as a matter of economics and even culture, but what should be its political form? What great idea will we dream up which might allow our politics to catch up with the new economics?

We cannot simply demand nation-states assert themselves more. Some have tried: the United States wanted to ban imports of shrimp from Asian countries whose fishing methods were unfriendly to turtles - the WTO said no. Okay, say others. Perhaps in this new global world, we need to pool our sovereignty and work as supranational blocks. Ardent Europhiles reckon a strong European Union could take on Bill Gates in a way the humble British government cannot. But even this might not work. The EU joined together to try to keep out North American hormone-treated beef. The WTO ruled against us.

No, the uncomfortable reality is that global forces need global restraints. We are going to have to devise worldwide political machinery to tame a worldwide economy. No one in America can utter such heresy, for such words smack of the ultimate X-Files villain: Global Government. And yet, just as the nations which took shape in the last century required modern states, so the one-world of the next century is crying out for its political companion.

What might it look like? Today, Bill Clinton will tell the delegates in Seattle that the WTO itself represents their best hope - that, far from being the satanic villain imagined by the eco-warriors shouting outside the hall, the World Trade Organisation is the planet's best chance to keep globalisation under control.

He wants to open up the organisation's secret deliberations, allowing observers to sit in. That will satisfy few critics of the WTO. In their mind, the body is bogus because it lacks all democratic legitimacy. But that view is too crude - after all, most of the 134 national representatives gathered in Seattle have been sent there by democratically elected governments: the WTO can even claim to be a kind of global parliament. But is it good enough? Not at the moment, it ain't.

It is too secretive, too remote from public scrutiny. And few citizens feel they are represented on it, even if, technically, they are. There are other possibilities. Gordon Brown, now installed in the chair of the International Monetary Fund's governing committee, is understood to favour a merged IMF and World Bank which could step in and help the planet's economic trouble spots - a kind of rapid response force for globalisation. And there's always the United Nations.

Whichever form it takes, we have to think of something. Our world is changing so fast and our ideas of sovereignty and power are lagging far behind. No one has the answer - but few dispute that this could be the most pressing political question of the coming century.


Pass notes: J18

No: 1532: J18

Monday November 29, 1999

Description: Campaigners and discontents who organised the City-bashing "carnival against capitalism" on June 18. Hence the name J18.

That certainly brought the free market system to a halt, didn't it? It might do this time. More activists, anarchists and knit-your-own-muesli-eco-warriors than you could shake a Levellers album at will descend on Seattle tomorrow for a "mass mobilisation to shut down the World Trade Organisation", which is holding a ministerial summit there. Big demos are expected in cities worldwide, including London.

What's so bad about the WTO? J18 says it's an undemocratic conspiracy by multinational corporations to force exploitative trading on defenceless poor countries.

And the organisation's defence? It likes to think of itself as the benign uncle of globalisation, lowering trade barriers and promoting market liberalisation, and all the prosperity and happiness associated with it.

What sort of barriers? Employment standards, environmental protection and health infrastructure - the irritating details that, according to J18, force third world nations to charge a few extra pennies per million pairs of air-soled trainers.

A fringe view? No. The WTO's enemies include half of Asia, the Organisation of African Unity, hundreds of NGOs - even the RSPB is brandishing its binoculars in fury at the impact on bird habitats. A mass walkout of Seattle's workers is rumoured too.

Anyone in favour of the WTO? Without it, some say, exploitation of the strong by the weak would be far worse - so it acts as a sort of global policeman, albeit one not overly keen to investigate crimes against poor people. J18 disagrees; they're out to smash globalisation.

All globalisation? Maybe not all, as that would include the internet, on which they're relying for the "N30" protest. But quite a lot of it.

Do say: "Maggie Maggie Maggie! Out! Out! Out! Er, sack Major, not the miners . . . no, hang on a sec . . ."

Not to be confused with: The Luddites, the Flat Earthers, the Conservative Party, any other lost cause you care to mention.



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