By GENE JOHNSON
SEATTLE – Vandals attacked nine Starbucks Coffee Co. stores, putting the city on edge as it prepared for the anniversary todayt of last year’s riotous World Trade Organization protests.
The stores, among dozens throughout the city, sustained minor damage late Tuesday or early Wednesday – broken windows, glue in locks and walls spray-painted with an encircled “A,” a graffiti tag used by anarchists during WTO demonstrations last year.
There was no evidence linking the vandalism to protesters, police said.
Starbucks will be taking extra security measures, Dave Owen, a senior vice president at the Seattle-based chain, said in a written statement. A spokesman refused to elaborate.
Meanwhile, Mayor Paul Schell urged television news stations to broadcast as little of last year’s events as possible.
“We believe the constant repetition of those images simply builds up any tension that might arise this year,” said Schell’s spokesman, Dick Lilly.
Authorities have been anxious to avoid a repeat of last year, when 50,000 protesters crammed downtown and shut down some sessions of the WTO session. The WTO, a trade alliance of about 140 countries, has become a target for a wide range of activists who believe it represents corporate globalization and short shrift for the environment and workers.
Overwhelmed Seattle police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets and closing off much of downtown. The ensuing riots resulted in 600 arrests, $3 million in property damage, numerous civil-rights lawsuits and the police chief’s sudden early retirement.
By all accounts, this year’s protests on Nov. 30, “N30” in protester parlance, will be smaller because there won’t be any world trade conference to disrupt.
Generous estimates predict as many as 5,000 demonstrators, many of whom said they plan to converge on Westlake Park downtown. Police have asked them not to protest there because they may disrupt shoppers and another scheduled event.
Lilly said there was no way to tell whether the Starbucks vandalism was an indication of things to come.
“It’s disturbing there were anarchist symbols,” he said.
Jean Buskin, a 52-year-old Seattle biochemist coordinating anniversary protests, said the vandalism was a shame because Starbucks has been receptive to activists’ arguments and now offers certified fair-trade coffee.
Buskin said she expected no violence today.
The mayor’s spokesman said people should be wary of protesters who goad police in attempting to draw attention to their cause.
“In order to prove government is bad, it’s not a bad idea to be attacked by government or by police,” Lilly said.
While demonstrators are expected to come from near and far, several organizations have decided to sit this one out. Among them are members of the Machinists union at Boeing, who turned out by the thousands with their families last year. Machinists spokesman Tim Flynn said the workers still want fair, environmentally responsible trade, but have their differences with some of the protest groups.
“Boeing exports planes all over the world. The Machinists are very trade-dependent, so there’s a bit of a nuance there that’s different from the other parties involved,” Flynn said.
Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Seattle Audubon Society and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, are also staying away. They say they weren’t getting anywhere with the WTO.
Helen Ross, conservation coordinator for Seattle Audubon, said her group is focusing instead on working with individual companies to persuade them to offer environmentally friendly goods.
“WTO is certainly still a threat to conservation efforts,” Ross said. “But our focus has shifted because a lot of their discussions have stalled.”
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