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Meacher blames Seattle police for riots

MICHAEL MEACHER, the environment minister, has condemned the Seattle police for their handling of the riots during the World Trade Organisation talks, which collapsed in disarray causing the US government embarrassment and a huge loss of international credibility.

Mr Meacher, writing in The Independent on Sunday, complains that heavy- handed policing was responsible for the escalation of protests against the WTO. He places the blame for pitched battles in the street, widespread violence and a 24-hour curfew on the city centre squarely on the shoulders of the Seattle Police Department.

Mr Meacher, who was representing Britain at the ill-fated WTO talks, writes: "What we hadn't reckoned with was the Seattle Police Department who single-handedly managed to turn a peaceful protest into a riot." He compares the officers involved in the "over-zealous police security operation" to "Star Wars-style stormtroopers".

The talks themselves have now ended in deadlock. The failure leaves the WTO drifting, raising fears that America will lurch into protectionism.

World trade ministers returned home yesterday after failing to launch a new round of global trade liberalisation talks, fuelling a spiral of recrimination. American officials implied that agriculture was the sticking point - a way of blaming the Europeans. Delegates from Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America claimed that the US was responsible. Some developing countries said their ministers felt insulted by the way they were brushed aside by the big powers and patronised by the largely wealthy protesters.

"By Friday, a poisonous atmosphere is developing among many developing countries ... at being almost wholly excluded from the negotiations," writes Mr Meacher.

A new round of negotiations is now being planned in Geneva for the new year. The new talks will try to broaden the issues under discussion beyond the previously agreed areas of agriculture and services.

Mr Meacher's criticism of the US police could create an embarrassing diplomatic incident as they break with the long-established protocol that visiting ministers should not criticise their hosts. .