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Protests Start in Earnest at WTO

November 30, 1999

SEATTLE (AP) _ A French farmer passed out free Roquefort cheese outside a McDonald’s and religious organizations scheduled prayer services and a ``nonviolent human chain″ as protests began in earnest Monday against the World Trade Organization meetings.

Downtown Seattle was a street bazaar of social issues, with leaflets being passed out on corners, demonstrators chanting slogans and crowds of young people taking it all in. Police in riot gear and on horseback were stationed at key intersections, but no major conflicts broke out.

Julia Harrison, 32, of San Francisco, walked with her 7-year-old daughter and pushed her 3-year-old son in his stroller among at least 1,000 noisy but peaceful demonstrators in the downtown Sierra Club parade.

``I’m marching to protect the environment for them and to protect other children in the world from unfair labor practices,″ she said, adding that she also wanted to show her children ``I believe in something strong enough to come and get involved.″

The chanting marchers, loud but orderly, carried banners, flags and signs, such as ``WTO _ Fix it or Nix it.″ In addition to the Sierra Club, the parade included members of other environmental groups, animal rights activists and members of labor unions.

``I’m here because I don’t like what the WTO stands for,″ said Freda Knott, 63, of Victoria, British Columbia, a member of the singing group ``Raging Grannies.″ ``I want society to be for the people, not the corporations.″

Although a feared morning traffic mess failed to materialize, the conference was thrown off schedule by a security threat that delayed for four hours the opening of the meeting’s primary venue, the Washington State Trade and Convention Center.

Authorities refused to give details, saying only an officer noticed a possible security breach about 5 a.m., but that nothing dangerous had been found during a sweep of the building by a police SWAT team and the Secret Service.

The incident delayed the start of a symposium in which environmental, labor and other organizations were to voice concerns about world trade policy to organization officials.

An estimated 50,000 anti-WTO activists _ with interests ranging from Tibetan rights to sea turtles _ are expected here this week for what’s being called ``The Battle in Seattle″ or ``Carnival against Capitalism.″

At issue is the Geneva-based WTO’s sweeping power to enforce international trade agreements, and protesters’ belief that the organization places profit ahead of human rights and environmental concerns. Trade ministers from 135 nations will attend, as will President Clinton, when the four-day conference formally opens Tuesday.

The event’s largest protest, a rally and downtown march planned by the AFL-CIO for Tuesday, is expected to draw 25,000 or more. Radical groups promised to shut down the conference Tuesday with nonviolent demonstrations downtown.

Jose Bove, leader of the 40,000-member French Peasants Confederation, passed out Roquefort cheese outside a downtown McDonald’s Monday afternoon. Bove pointed out that the cheese was banned from the United States because France won’t accept U.S. beef that had been treated with hormones.

About 300 demonstrators blocked the intersection outside the restaurant, a window was broken and one person was arrested. The restaurant closed and customers inside were escorted out.

Jubilee 2000, a coalition of religious and antipoverty groups seeking to eliminate the debt of the poorest countries, anticipated thousands of people would form a human chain around the city’s new exhibition center at Safeco Field where a WTO reception was being held Monday night. Spokeswoman Ann Pettifor said it would be peaceful _ many coalition members are older people who are ``not into civil disobedience.″

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