Inside the bunker

The delegates fume as Seattle burns.

LOOKS LIKE WE won't be getting the Olympics anytime soon.

Seattle's perennial quest to prove itself "world-class" suffered quite a setback on Tuesday, judging by the reaction of the international fat cats who were trapped inside the WTO bunker all day.

"I've seen protests all over Europe," grumbled one delegate from Brussels as he sucked a cigarette outside the Paramount, separated from the seething mob of protesters by just a few feet of asphalt and a circle of Metro buses. "They never let the demonstrators get this close. They keep them at least five hundred meters away. I don't understand what this city is doing."

Sure, everyone has heard about the angry rabble that surrounded the Paramount, and the rest of downtown, Tuesday morning. But few know how dicey it became inside the besieged theater, where the grumbling of international dignitaries threatened to cause a disturbance of its own. Tired and impatient ministers were trapped for several hours, with no food or water, as they waited—in vain—for the WTO's opening festivities to begin. As demonstrators began to swarm the streets, hotels instituted a security lockdown. TV sets inside the theater began broadcasting pictures of the tear gas. There was no place to go.

"Isn't there anyplace we can get some coffee?" demanded a pair of African delegates, looking somewhere between exasperated and enraged, as they confronted a hapless volunteer for the Seattle Host Organization. "Pretty soon there's going to be a riot in here," the volunteer confided to me. "It's a good thing they at least opened up the downstairs for smoking."

As Mayor Schell stood silent and despondent near the theater stage, international delegates were left to cool their heels with no announcements, no welcoming message, no information of any kind as to when the meeting might get under way. In the end, a trio of activists who had infiltrated the Paramount seized the microphone and sought to begin a "dialogue"—but the security personnel were in no mood for that: The sound system was shut down and they were dragged away.

Back at the WTO's Convention Center headquarters, where many of the delegates had retreated, the international suits expressed genuine and widespread shock at Tuesday's turn of events. "I expected a lot of things, but not this," said a delegate from Suriname. "Do you think they realize that they completely shut down the meeting?" a delegate wondered, looking up at the TV set beaming in images of the protesters. Inside the Convention Center's enormous press center, Seattle Host Organization volunteers cheerfully offered that the entire 36-page schedule of WTO events could no longer be considered "updated"—which was another way of saying that everything had been canceled.

Holed up on the sixth floor, dining on pre-made sandwiches and salads (even the restaurants inside the Convention Center were mostly shut down), the delegates couldn't believe they had traveled halfway around the world in order to sit and do nothing. "Do you know how expensive it is for all these people to be here?" a UN representative said, his hand sweeping the room. An official from the US Trademark office marveled, "I can't believe they didn't say anything, not even to welcome us." "What an embarrassment for Seattle," sniffed a suitably snooty, pinstriped reporter from England.

Finally, at around 3 o'clock, WTO officials were ready to kick off their plenary session. At a press conference a few minutes before, the head of the WTO, Michael Moore, declared that the rest of the WTO events would now proceed as scheduled and he urged participants not to blame "the good people of Seattle" for the day's disruption. Fat chance of that.

 
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