WTO anniversary turns ugly at end


Associated Press

SEATTLE — Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske today praised and defended his officers who first watched, then cracked down on demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the World Trade Organization meeting here.

Police arrested 140 people, including an Associated Press reporter caught in a crowd that had been surrounded by officers making a mass arrest.

The Thursday night arrests downtown began after a thrown marble or ball bearing injured a police captain’s eye and officers reported seeing people throwing rocks and bottles. The captain was treated at a hospital and released.

The day had started peacefully with about 2,000 people demonstrating in Seattle’s downtown shopping district. As night fell, fewer than 200 remained and the mood had changed, Kerlikowske said.

"They were people bent on causing a problem," he told a morning news conference today.

Police dressed in riot gear ordered the crowd to disperse, then surrounded them and made arrests. "I saw them being very patient," Kerlikowske said of his officers, adding that about an hour passed between the first order to disperse and the arrests.

"There was more than adequate time for people to leave the middle of the street," he said.

Randy Trefethern, a legal observer of the protests for the National Lawyers Guild, said police arrested a protester rolling a cigarette, mistaking it for marijuana, "and that set the crowd off. Things became very tense after that."

Trefethern was among those arrested, as was Legrand Jones, another legal observer.

"They pushed us down the street and ultimately blocked us in," Jones said. "They ordered us to disperse, but there was nowhere for us to disperse."

Gene Johnson, an AP reporter arrested with the protesters, also said a police lieutenant ordered protesters several times to leave although they were hemmed in on four sides by police. Johnson was released on personal recognizance early Friday after being charged with pedestrian interference and failure to disperse.

Five of those arrested were being held on felony charges, including an Edmonds man being investigated for the injury to the police captain, police spokesman Clem Benton said. Most of the arrests were for failure to disperse, a misdemeanor.

At a news briefing, police displayed several weapons they said were seized from demonstrators, including knives, a pellet gun that resembled a standard revolver, and a placard mounted on a baseball bat.

Kerlikowske was hired as police chief earlier this year. The previous chief took early retirement after the chaotic WTO protests in 1999.

A statement issued Friday by the Committee for Local Government Accountability said protesters "regret the injury to the police officer" but added, "the behavior of one individual whose actions are not supported by the marchers does not justify a complete crackdown on the entire demonstration."

The violence and arrests marred what activists earlier had described as a joyful commemoration of the protests by 50,000 people last year that shut down opening WTO ceremonies.

Images of tear gas clouds rising over masses of protesters were beamed around the world last year, as some 630 were arrested and $3 million worth of property damage occurred, mostly in smashed storefront windows.

During the day Thursday, activists said they were happy so many were willing to focus again on the labor, environmental and human rights issues that galvanized them against WTO.

"I think it shows there’s still a lot of passion and energy from a lot of different communities about what took place last year and what continues to happen with globalization," said the Rev. Pete Strimer, a priest at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral and a leader of about 500 people marching to seek debt relief for poor countries.

Protesters briefly blocked streets for afternoon marches and gathered in Westlake Park — scene of several hundred arrests last year — for an impromptu festival of drumming, barbecued tofu dogs and chanting at police and the absent WTO.

Most businesses remained open, with holiday shoppers toting bags through sidewalk crowds of protesters — a marked contrast to the boarded-up and all but abandoned retail district of a year ago.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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