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Agendas Clash As Trade Talks Begin

President Clinton, who addressed delegates from WTO’s 135 member nations yesterday, urged that more attention be paid to environmental issues and worker rights.

Some of his comments came after he signed an International Labor Organization treaty aimed at outlawing slavery and prostitution of children, as well as other forms of child labor. The ILO, an arm of the United Nations, approved the treaty unanimously in June.

Clinton said the treaty “affirms fundamental human rights” and underscores “the fragility and importance of childhood.”

Some trade representatives from developing nations bristled at Clinton’s emphasis on worker rights.

“I know it is an important issue for the United States administration, but to have trade sanctions linked to labor rights violations would be really ultimately highly detrimental,” Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand’s commerce minister, told reporters.

Responding to a Clinton interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Supachai said the president’s stance could cause some trade ministers “to walk away from any agreement on a new round.”

Developing nations in particular oppose trade standards, saying that low-cost workers and less-stringent environmental rules attract business to poor regions. More than 100 WTO members are developing nations.

Although Clinton left Seattle Thursday afternoon, talks on labor rights and other issues will continue through tomorrow.

Clinton’s comments echoed many of those chanted by protesters as they marched for a third straight day in downtown Seattle.

At a press conference this afternoon, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell asked protesters to respect police authority.

“You must honor their authority to maintain public safety and they will honor your ability to practice first amendment rights,” Schell said. “If you refuse to disperse when asked to do so by police, the police will use every tool that they have to enforce that dispersement.”

A group of nearly 1,000 protesters and neighborhood residents gathered just outside the downtown area last night, shouting for police and National Guard troops to withdraw from the area near the convention center, where the WTO is meeting.

Police scattered the group with tear gas but arrested only two people. The crowd had dwindled to about 250 early in the morning as a steady rain began.

Police cracked down on protesters after demonstrations shut down the opening session of trade talks and some protesters turned violent, smashing windows and spraying graffiti. About 500 people have been arrested since Tuesday.

Schell has declared a civil emergency, implemented nightly curfews and created a 50-block security zone downtown. Protesters and anyone who does not have official business there are banned altogether from the area where delegates are meeting and staying.

On Wednesday, Schell implemented a 24-hour curfew in an L-shaped region of about 30 blocks around the convention center and main hotels.

According to city officials, that area is open only to WTO delegates, press, city officials, emergency workers and owners or employees of businesses within the zone.

According to the Downtown Seattle Association, a group that represents 2,500 merchants, lost sales have so far cost merchants seven million dollars. Property damage has topped a million dollars, from things like broken windows, looting and graffiti.

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