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Seattle Struggles to Regain Calm Following WTO Riots

By Kim Murphy

Responding to outraged citizens who poured into the streets after fighting off tear gas in their neighborhood, Seattle officials Thursday eased the state of emergency that has paralyzed the inner city -- allowing at least two protest marches and scaling back the columns of riot police that have blockaded downtown intersections.

“We need to put an end to this. We need to talk,” Mayor Paul Schell said wearily after a police crackdown against World Trade Organization protesters prompted the backlash in which hundreds of residents came out of their homes and faced off against police.

After a night of confrontations that left some residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhood crouching on the floors of their homes, city leaders faced a barrage of angry criticism Thursday morning. Schell -- facing a city as distraught over the police crackdown as over the WTO protesters who have dominated the streets -- pledged to “start the healing process.”

“Our primary goal is to regain and maintain peace in our city,” the mayor said. “But we are still in a state of emergency. This is not business as usual. People must understand that.”

A 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. curfew went into effect for the third consecutive night Thursday, but police dramatically scaled back their tactics, if not their numbers. A day after marching through rush hour traffic -- armed with billy clubs and hurling tear gas at protesters in the city’s famous Pike Place Market -- police on Thursday issued a permit for one downtown rally and provided a motorcycle escort for illegal demonstrators marching from Capitol Hill to the downtown jail.

Schell said that he would consider shrinking the boundaries of the curfew zone and would open a dialogue with protest leaders to make room for peaceful demonstrations and marches.

The turning point came in the predawn hours Thursday, when an eclectic neighborhood of artists, musicians, political activists and students came under siege until about 3 a.m.

According to police, a group of 200 to 300 WTO protesters -- edged out of downtown by the curfew -- moved into the streets of Capitol Hill, where they blocked two major intersections and threatened officers with rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails. Several windows at local businesses were smashed. At least some protesters charged the police line, department spokesmen said.

Officers responded with tear gas and concussion grenades, finally deploying a substantial contingent of police and National Guard units outside the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct headquarters.

By then, the conflict was in the heart of a residential neighborhood. Helicopters with searchlights swooped overhead as tear gas canisters, concussion grenades and rubber bullets whistled through the streets.

Gradually, witnesses said, people began coming out of their homes and joining the protesters, until the crowd grew to nearly 1,000 people.

“I was rousted from my bed at 9:30 at night by bomb blasts,” said Mike Maloney, a laborer. “I came out from my apartment building and ... was told to return indoors. And when I asked why, I was sprayed with pepper spray.”