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Battle in Seattle: WTO Talks Collapse, Many Protesters Are Still in Jail

December 06, 1999

After seven days and nights of demonstrations by tens of thousands of protesters, a rebellion by developing nations and a deadlock among the world’s largest trading powers, an ambitious round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization in Seattle collapsed this past week, ending without consensus on any of the main issues on the agenda.

By the time U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky ended the talks late Friday night, she faced 135 weary trade ministers who had been unable to agree on anything, and a city whose mayor had one last message for the WTO: if you want to do Seattle a favor, please get out of town.

Unions, farmers, environmentalists, students, professionals and many others took to the streets of Seattle by the tens of thousands last week to protest what they say is the world’s most secretive and powerful body. On Tuesday, they forced the WTO to cancel its opening ceremony and prevented the vast majority of the 3,000 delegates from entering the convention center for the first day of meetings. From that day on, as protests continued across the city, the conference barely limped ahead.

The delegates were unable to agree on issues such as farm subsidies, which the U.S. wants eliminated, as well as the use of bioengineering, and a moratorium on tariffs on electronic commerce, among many other trade issues. Delegates from developing countries also publicly complained that the more economically powerful nations excluded them from key sessions of the talks.

Over six hundred demonstrators were arrested last week, as Seattle police cracked down on the protests with tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and other tactics that the city has now promised to investigate for incidents of brutality. Many protesters are still languishing in jail. Alongside with the protesters, residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhood were also tear gassed in their homes, and a Seattle Council member said city police officers yanked him from his car as he was driving to a WTO event and started to handcuff him, despite the fact that he showed them his identification.


  • Rob Weissman, From the Multinational Monitor. He was in Seattle and was present at Charlene Barshefsky’s closing press conference. Telephone 202-986 7262.
  • Dennis Moynihan

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