SEATTLE -- Protesters have successfully delayed the opening session of the World Trade Organization's meeting here, using human barricades, marches and almost any peaceful means at their disposal.

Tens of thousands of people, ranging from Teamsters, who say the organization's trade agreements are unfair to U.S. workers, to Earth Firsters, who argue they damage the environment, have descended on the Emerald City. And with some demonstrators on stilts, others hoisting a large whale and several king-sized vegetables seized by police, Seattle really does bear an uncanny resemblance to Oz.

Burning Their Britches
A man burns a pair of pants from the Gap in Seattle on Sunday.
Photo: AP

Not only have they prevented any entry or exit from the convention center where the trade negotiations were to begin, they are preventing anyone from moving downtown. All transportation, including shuttle buses for delegates, has been suspended and ministers, nongovernmental organization representatives, press and official observers find themselves locked in what hotels are open nearby, or stuck out in the street. Protesters tell anyone who comes near their locked arm barricades to return to their hotels and close shop for the week. Entrance to hotels is also barred.

Underground tunnels, at least four by some estimates, which could have been alternate routes to the convention center, have also been closed. Some protesters are marching through the city, while others are choosing to man the barricades as Seattle's police counter them with beanbag bullets and tear gas. As the demonstrators square off with Seattle's finest, shouts of "Peaceful!" and "Nonviolence!" can be heard. Fliers explaining the myriad of positions and arguments against the talks are being distributed to befuddled officials.

"This is democracy in action," said one WTO observer from the U.S. as he waited for the Hilton elevator with delegates from Japan, Morocco and the European Union. "But what it really shows is the need for public education about international trade."

Although the business-suited older delegates may dislike the disruption, with today's shutdown the scruffy young protesters have raised the general public's level of awareness of the WTO meetings -- and made more people think about the pros and cons of international trade.

The WTO delegates may also be envious of the protesters' level of coordination and cooperation, considering that they themselves still lack an agenda for the summit. Even before the protests, it was unlikely that trade ministers would be able to craft any substantial agreements in Seattle.

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