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November 30 press reports from London: the Independent

Almost forgot the Independent. Easily done. Poor dears couldn't even get their own reporter up to Euston. At least the Press Association is less inaccurate than the Times. Note the "police said" appended to the description of mayhem.

And they relied on Associated Press for Seattle coverage, too, at least until the Wednesday.

Unlike other papers, the Inde did put its own people on the, er, small setback for Tube privatisation, which just happened to coincide with the protest against it.

40 held after London demo

1 December 1999

Forty people were arrested when anti-capitalist demonstrators brought mayhem to London for the second time in less than six months, police said today.

A police van was set alight and an officer injured in violent clashes outside Euston station last night during an international day of action called to mark the opening session of the World Trade Organisation talks in Seattle.

The American city also saw violent scenes, which led mayor Paul Schell to declare a civil emergency and call in National Guard troops just hours ahead of US President Bill Clinton's visit to address the WTO later today.

Mr Schell imposed a curfew last night in a bid to clear the streets of the roving protesters who forced the talks organisers to cancel the opening ceremonies of the largest trade event ever staged in the US.

In Britain, hundreds of activists had gathered outside the rail station at the height of the evening rush hour, forcing police to close the busy Euston Euston Road and preventing commuters from reaching trains.

The largely peaceful demonstration erupted in violence when a group of some 100 campaigners surged forward towards a wall of waiting police in riot gear. A police car was driven back as missiles rained on officers.

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.

He added that at least four people at the Euston protest were arrested in connection with the anti-capitalism riot in the City, London's financial heart, on June 18.

Some of last night's demonstrators were from a loose coalition of groups which brought £1 million worth of damage to the City with their Carnival Against Capitalism - known as J18 among activists.

Yesterday's events started slowly, with only a few dozen people protesting at Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and Oxford Street. By early evening, the only person arrested at Liverpool Street was a suspect from the summer riot.

But by around 5.30pm some 500 protesters converged on Euston, as instructed by fly posters that had appeared around the capital overnight.

Trouble flared when small groups at the front of the crowd attempted to breach lines of police in front of the station and were followed by their fellow protesters.

Riot police moved in to push the mob back as bottles, cans and sticks were hurled at officers.

A British Transport Police van was overturned by the crowd and set on fire, covering the scene with a thick blanket of choking black smoke as masked demonstrators fought baton-wielding police.

Protesters emerged bleeding from the melee as officers attempted to push them away from the burning van, fearful that it might explode.

One policeman, Pc Paul Squires, 32, was injured when he was hit over the head by a litter bin. He was taken to St Thomas's Hospital with a suspected spinal injury.

By 9pm the situation had calmed to a stand-off but 30 minutes later there were still up to 150 demonstrators outside the station, with a further 100 close by in Euston Road.

This hardcore of protesters were surrounded by police and were systematically searched and dispersed by around 11pm, said Scotland Yard.

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

Another protester, dreadlocked 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."

Miss Stonemore, who has been on several other demonstrations, said she understood that there needed to be a police presence but believed this time it had been heavy-handed and too many officers were involved.

"This won't stop us - all this will do is force us to come out with more numbers next time."

Commander Judy Davison, of the City of London Police, said a hardcore group of 150 people had started the trouble and had been "bent on violence before they got here".

Cdr Davison, speaking on behalf of the three forces which policed tonight's riot - British Transport Police, City of London Police and the Metropolitan Police - held up a spanner and said it was one of the missiles thrown at officers during the riot.

"The actions of this minority have nothing to do with expressing a point of view or lawfully protesting about an issue. This is purely yobbish behaviour - it is violence for the sake of it, unnecessary and unprovoked."

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Troops clear Seattle protesters

1 December 1999

A state of emergency was declared in Seattle after protesters shut the opening session of the World Traade Orgnisation conference. National Guard troops were called out to clear the streets.

Parts of this normally laid-back Pacific Northwest city were turned into a battle zone as police fired tear gas and pepper gas into clumps of protesters who at times turned violent, wrecking police cars and city buses and smashing downtown storefronts.

The protesters blocked major intersections around the meeting sites of the 135-nation World Trade Organization, preventing motorcades for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and U.S. 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 theater until WTO officials finally gave up and canceled the opening speeches.

The protesters are unhappy with the Geneva-based organization that sets the rules for global trade, charging that it too often only considers the needs of giant multinational corporations at the expense of protecting the environment and worker rights.

A surprised administration official conceded late Tuesday night that the protesters may have won the opening round of the four days of discussions. But he vowed that Clinton would succeed in seizing the policy highground Wednesday 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 Clinton was staying.

Mayor Paul Schell declared a civil emergency and imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. PST (0300 GMT Wednesday) to 7:30 a.m. PST (1530 GMT), a period that will cover Clinton's scheduled arrival.

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.

Disappointed WTO officials scrapped the opening ceremony after waiting for three hours to see if the demonstrations would let up enough to allow delegates and speakers to make it to the meeting site.

Instead, the WTO went straight into the first of a series of plenary sessions, where trade ministers from different countries are allowed to address the delegates.

WTO Director General Mike Moore vowed that, despite the rocky start, the assembled nations would succeed in launching a new round of multinational trade negotiations to lower tariffs and other barriers on agriculture products, manufactured goods and service industries such as banking and insurance.

"This conference will be a success. The issues are far too important to be ignored," Moore maintained.

Police Chief Norm Stamper defended the way the Seattle force handled the protests. He said the small number of people arrested showed "remarkable restraint" by the police.

By late Tuesday, police were confirming 22 arrests.

"We regret any inconvenience that you may have experienced," U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky told the delegates at the afternoon session. "... It is unfortunate that some of the protesters did become unruly, but that does not reflect the views of the people of Seattle or the United States."

Mohammed Asfour, the Jordanian minister of industry and trade, said he was unable to get to the convention center because the odor of tear gas was wafting over the official entrance designated for his use.

"People like us who came from thousands of miles and to find no organization - it's very sad," Asfour said.

Third World countries strongly oppose a world trade regime that includes the labor and environmental standards advocated by the protesters, saying it would take away their competitive advantages of lower wage scales and more lax environmental regulations.

But Pascal Lamy, the top trade negotiator for the European Union, said, "The reason why a number of protesters are here is because they believe that trade liberalization is working against a number of values they care about."

The violence was attributed to a small number of protesters. As many as 50,000 union members and their families participated in a huge afternoon march without incident although their leaders said their unhappiness with the WTO was just as strong.

"We're going to change WTO or we're going to get rid of WTO," Teamsters union president James Hoffa Jr. told the union marchers.

Dockworkers up and down the West Coast shut down some cargo movement Tuesday in solidarity with the anti-WTO protest. About 9,600 workers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union were expected to take part in the action at about three dozen West Coast ports, including the nation's largest, Long Beach and Los Angeles.

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Prescott rejects Railtrack as Tube operator

1 December 1999

Plans to hand parts of the London Underground to Railtrack have been ditched by the Government, partly because of the Paddington disaster.

The U-turn was announced last night after John Prescott, London Transport and Railtrack agreed that the scheme was not viable. The plans' collapse means that new bidders will be invited to tender for the multi-billion-pound contract to take over the sub-surface lines of the Tube.

Mr Prescott, the Secretary of State for Transport, was heavily criticised by Ken Livingstone and others when he awarded exclusive rights to rebuild the Metropolitan, Circle and District Lines to Railtrack.

The Deputy Prime Minister decided to abandon the scheme when the private-sector company could not come up with a way of integrating east-west routes in the capital.

Mr Prescott had hoped that Railtrack would be able to produce a workable project by March. When the company admitted that such a timetable was impossible, he decided to end the deal.

The Deputy Prime Minister told The Independent last night that the Paddington disaster had played a key part in his decision, as it proved that the station, through which the east-west route would pass, had to be reviewed before any new building could begin.

"The tragedy at Paddington raised the question of the layout and capacity of Paddington. The crash has raised the whole issue of the station as a vital crossroads into London, and we want to get it right," he said. "I gave Railtrack an exclusive contract because I thought they were best placed to come up with a way to integrate the lines with the rest of the rail network. They have been unable to do so." The decision was taken on the advice of Sir Alastair Morton, head of the shadow Strategic Rail Authority.

The sub-surface line contracts will now be awarded alongside all other parts of the Tube next September, with work due to start in early 2001.A separate study of plans to build a tunnel linking east and west London, with connections to Heathrow, will be made by Sir Alastair. Its conclusions should be ready within months.

The public-private partnership is the Government's flagship policy for bringing massive investment to London Underground, and is seen by Tony Blair as a classic New Labour project. But after Paddington, ministers were left in the embarrassing position of working with Railtrack on the scheme.

Mr Livingstone has made his opposition to Railtrack a central theme of his campaign to be London mayor, claiming the Tube was being privatised. By attacking one of Britain's most unloved companies, the former GLC leader forced Mr Prescott and his mayoral rival Frank Dobson on the defensive.

He is now likely to claim victory because of the U-turn, although Mr Prescott stressed the decision was not political. "My job is to run the railways, not react to what Ken says. Decisions like this cannot be taken on the basis of politics," he said.

In a statement last night, the Department of Transport stressed that the main reason for the deal's collapse was the failure to identify a practical scheme to integrate east and west London rail routes. The department said that although a viable north-south link had been drawn up, there was no "satisfactory" east-west plan.

At least two consortia have expressed an interest in running the sub-surface lines. Railtrack will now assess whether it should now bid with other firms.

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Seattle cracks down on rioters as ministers wage trade battles

2 December 1999

After two days of violent protests and a police crackdown that immobilized downtown Seattle, trade ministers - many seeking refuge from the rioting in their hotels - sought to get down to serious negotation.

President Bill Clinton was urging countries to include workers' rights and environmental safeguards in global trade talks but was getting a chilly reception from developing nations.

Thailand's commerce minister warned that Clinton's tough stance on workers' rights could jeopardize efforts to launch a new round of trade talks among the 135 member nations of the World Trade Organization.

"To have trade sanctions linked to labor rights violations would be really ultimately highly detrimental," Supachai Panitchpakdi, who takes over the top WTO post in 2002, said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a curfew remained in effect for the immediate area surrounding WTO meeting venues after violent clashes between thousands of protesters and police in riot gear left the sting of tear gas and smoke from spot fires lingering in the air.

Police have arrested nearly 500 people, abandoning a hands-off approach after militant protesters broke off from peaceful demonstrators and smashed windows, vandalized shops and set spot fires the previous day.

Seattle Mayor Paul Schell called another overnight curfew on Wednesday night for the entire 50-block downtown area.

"I'm very distressed to see videos of our beautiful city with tear gas and police dressed in riot gear," Seattle Mayor Paul Schell said.

With a Friday deadline for wrapping up WTO talks, Clinton told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that a new trade deal should contain provisions on workers' rights - and that countries that refuse to agree should face sanctions.

That stance could prompt trade ministers from developing countries "to walk away from any agreement on a new round," Supachai warned in response.

"I implore you. Let's continue to find ways to prove that the quality of life of ordinary citizens in every country can be lifted, including basic labor standards and an advance on the environmental front," Clinton said, addressing trade ministers Wednesday.

His speech received only lukewarm applause, however, and several delegates listened with their eyes closed.

The workers' rights issue is an enormous sticking point among the 135 members of the WTO, the Geneva-based body that sets world trade rules. The European Union trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy, calls it the biggest hurdle the ministers now face.

Wealthy nations want their poorer trading partners to adopt more stringent regulations protecting workers and the environment, saying standards that lag behind those in the West amount to an unfair trade tactic that steals business from nations where workers get a better deal.

Developing nations in Asia and Latin America - including more than 100 WTO members - say they can't afford such proposals.

Other big issues include U.S. insistence on elimination of tariffs on agricultural exports, which faces major opposition from the European Union and Japan - America's top rivals in the WTO.

The Japanese, meanwhile, want to reform antidumping laws that Washington imposes on goods it says are imported below cost. Japan and other critics call the rules a disguised form of protectionism.

U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky reported progress on the agricultural dispute, as well as on issues surrounding the expansion of the global services industry and reductions of tariffs that hinder exports of many goods.

"I do think we are very much on track substantively," Barshefsky told reporters, predicting negotiators can resolve enough differences by Friday to start a new round of talks.

The fighting over various arcane commercial issues is essential to shaping any new trade deal, which ministers hope to reach within three years.

No matter how contentious negotiations get, America's biggest trade event in history will have been overshadowed by the rioting and protests. Tens of thousands showed up to accuse the WTO of putting profit ahead of human rights and environmental concerns.

Ministers said they were stunned by the chaos.

"That prevented us from doing a lot of work because many of us were actually locked in our hotels," said Odeen Ishmael, Guyana's ambassador to the United States.

American officials sought to portray the violence as the work of a few troublemakers, saying the message brought to town by some 35,000 union members and environmental activists who stayed peaceful was welcome input into the negotiations.

"I condemn the small number who were violent and who tried to prevent you from meeting, but I am glad the others showed up," Clinton told ministers. "They represent millions of people who are now asking questions about whether this enterprise in fact will take us all where we want to go. And we ought to welcome their questions and be prepared to give an answer."

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Updated
06/12/1999

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