WTO Protests Calm Down
SEATTLE (AP) _ Billed as a ``festival of resistance,″ World Trade Organization protests for the first time Thursday seemed more like a party than a pitched battle with police.
After a Pike Place Market rally, at least 1,000 people marched to the King County Jail at the south end of downtown to support for those arrested. Motorcycle police escorted protesters to the site, which is blocks away from the WTO meetings. A huge puppet on wheels, with a gag across his mouth led the throng.
By late evening, authorities put the number of demonstrators who were arrested at 587.
Those outside the jailhouse, where many of the protesters were held, demanded those arrested over the past few days be released. Demonstrators locked arms in front of the entrance to the jail, which was also locked from the inside to prevent entry.
As night fell, the demonstrators outside the jail sent out for bottled water, pizza and sandwiches. City officials, meanwhile, announced they were scaling back the curfew area to 17 square blocks around the WTO meetings. The jailhouse rally was well outside the zone.
No longer was the protest targeting the WTO talks.
``We’re here because there are over 100 non-violent protesters (inside) who were arrested for exercising their right to free speech,″ said one man on a bullhorn.
``Free the Seattle 500,″ read one sign.
``Let them go!″ chanted the crowd. People inside the jail waved to the cheering protesters.
Meanwhile, defense attorneys and city officials worked out a tentative deal allowing lawyers to talk to the jailed protesters, if those rallying outside the jail agreed to leave.
Police were acting differently, said David Roman, 26, an organizer with the umbrella group Direct Action Network. Where Wednesday some were ``out of control,″ they were cooperative Thursday, he said.
The rally at the market was one of the first peaceful demonstrations since Tuesday’s vandalism downtown and police response Wednesday with tear gas and rubber bullets.
``These people are standing up for a good cause,″ said market spokeswoman Sylvia McDaniel of the 2,000 or so who gathered peacefully in noon sunshine.
Activists were wary of renewed police efforts to distinguish between vandals and criminals and those engaged in peaceful protest and civil disobedience.
``It’s never too late to say you’re sorry,″ said Lori Lofton, 25, of Portland, Ore., walking with about 300 other demonstrators as the market crowd dispersed into smaller groups.
But then she added of police: ``Many of them should be punished. An apology is not enough.″
For activists concerned about WTO power to override national laws protecting the environment and workers, this week’s meeting was supposed to be a historic showdown between civil society and the forces of corporate globalization.
Instead, the battle has been between protesters and police, with concerns about human rights, labor and the environment taking a back seat to allegations of police brutality.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, tens of thousands of protesters took over the city’s core and some smashed entire blocks of storefront windows, spray-painted buildings and slashed police-car tires causing an estimated $2 million in property damage.
Mayor Paul Schell has imposed a 24-hour ``limited curfew″ through midnight Friday around the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, where trade delegates, media and interest groups from 135 nations are meeting. People in the area can be asked for identification and ordered to leave if authorities decide they don’t have a valid reason for being there.
Activists made clear they did not condone the violence and vandalism, which they said involved a very small percentage of the estimated 40,000 people demonstrating. Groups of people wearing black ski masks were witnessed smashing windows and kicking dents in squad-car doors.
But since then, they say, police have tear-gassed and arrested scores of people participating in non-violent marches and demonstrations.
Police spokeswoman Carmen Best said officers warned protesters before using gas or pepper spray, and contended they have acted appropriately.
``People cannot block the streets,″ she said. ``It’s illegal to do so. For people to block a main thoroughfare in a busy area of the city is not appropriate.″
She said the department ``recognizes the fact that people want to exercise their rights to free speech, and we embrace that. However, if it’s a violation of law, then we have been mandated to enforce the law.″