SEATTLE – The mayor and the police chief say next week’s anniversary of the chaotic World Trade Organization protests will not be a repeat of last year, but they refuse to say exactly how they plan to prevent it.
Mayor Paul Schell and Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said last year’s violence and flawed police response gave them a blueprint from which to learn. But they have declined to say what strategies they have for monitoring anniversary demonstrations, how many extra police will be on duty or whether some officers will be in riot gear.
“It is important to recognize this is not the WTO,” Schell told a news conference Wednesday. “There are going to be far fewer people involved.”
Last year, 50,000 activists flocked to the city to protest a meeting of the WTO, which sets the terms of global trade and which, protesters say, has helped international corporations at the expense of workers and the environment.
Protesters soon overwhelmed police and blocked streets, shutting down the opening ceremonies of the meeting on Nov. 30. About 600 people were arrested, many more were hit with tear gas, and property damage totaled $3 million.
By all projections, demonstrations Thursday will be smaller. Still, about 5,000 protesters are expected, and street parties, rallies, marches, discussions and other events are planned throughout the week.
Police have warned that protesters could be arrested if they demonstrate without permits, but most seem to be ignoring that. Only one group has applied for a permit – the Tibetan Association of Washington, which will rally in Victor Steinbrueck Park downtown.
“Violence and lawbreakers are not going to be tolerated,” Kerlikowske said. But, he added, “There will not be an overreaction by the Seattle Police Department.”
Most officers will be dressed in ordinary street uniforms Thursday, Kerlikowske said.
Schell was encouraging protesters to meet at Steinbrueck Park instead of at Westlake Center, where an unrelated, children-oriented gathering was planned.
Tentative schedules for anniversary events, however, showed Westlake Center as ground zero.
Shops and businesses downtown will remain open during the week, Schell said.
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