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Protests Cause Delay in Trade Summit

A police spokesman told reporters the delay came after an officer said he saw something suspicious inside the Washington State convention center. A search of the building turned up nothing.

Official talks between the 135 member nations begin Tuesday, and activists have said they will attempt to disrupt the proceedings by blocking streets and denying delegates access to the convention center.

Calling for a “Battle in Seattle,” as many as 50,000 protesters are said to be planning a large-scale rally and march in Seattle just before President Clinton arrives Tuesday.

The President, who has promoted free trade as an engine of the booming U.S. economy, has tried to quell criticism of the Geneva-based WTO by pushing the group to consider labor standards and environmental protection. But developing nations strongly oppose the U.S. effort, believing lower wages and less stringent environmental regulations attract business to their regions.

There is growing concern that government ministers may not achieve any breakthroughs on lowering trade barriers at the summit, along with fears that protests will overshadow the talks.

Sunday night, a group took over an abandoned apartment building in downtown Seattle. They blame global free trade for what they call a lack of affordable housing.

Authorities have shut off water, gas and electricity to the apartment building and have stopped protesters from taking lumber and nails into the building to prevent them from building barricades.

Critics of the WTO, including Teamsters Union President James Hoffa Jr., say the organization disregards worker safety, human rights and the environment in pursuit of profit.

Also on Monday, Cuban President Fidel Castro said he would not attend the summit because he said the U.S. government did not want him to attend.

He made the decision public in a letter to U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who had invited the Caribbean leader to attend.

“It soon became evident that the U.S. government was opposed to my presence at the Seattle meeting,” Castro wrote in the letter.

Castro said he had intended to participate in the summit, but had learned that Cuban exiles were hoping to arrest him. Reportedly, the exile group was hoping to charge Castro with the murder of four anti-Castro pilots whose planes were shot down over the island.

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