Clinton Enters Trade Tussle

Undeterred by violent demonstrations, President Clinton wades into the fray over global trade Wednesday, saying the World Trade Organization should heed the legitimate complaints of many protesters.

White House officials blamed a small number of activists for a riotous day Tuesday that provoked state authorities to call out unarmed National Guardsmen. They vowed that the violence wouldn't force Mr. Clinton, the only head of government attending the conference, to curtail his schedule in Seattle.

Joe Lockhart, the president's press secretary, lamented the clashes with police and vandalism that delayed the opening of the WTO session. But he said Mr. Clinton still believed the protesters' "legitimate point of view...should be heard."

"Despite the problems with the ceremonial events, the substantive work goes on," he said.

White House staffers were called in to Seattle to buttress the work of the U.S. Trade Representative's office in responding to the vocal criticism of administration trade policy. Mr. Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, accompanied the president.

Seeking to build support for his trade agenda, Mr. Clinton was visiting the Port of Seattle Wednesday and meeting with students of trade and with farmers. He was expected to discuss how opening markets would help the agricultural industry, especially Washington state's apple growers.

Later in the day, he was delivering a keynote address to a luncheon for trade ministers from the 135 WTO member countries. On Thursday, he is to sign an International Labor Organization treaty on child labor.

Labor officials who often ally themselves with the president helped organize a massive rally and march in Seattle to express their skepticism over the benefits of more unfettered trade and to protest China's inclusion in the WTO.

While labor leaders were disappointed that their event was overshadowed by the violence, AFL-CIO spokeswoman Denise Mitchell said the turmoil made clear that "this WTO doesn't have support, and we hope people will take that to heart."

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has signed on to Mr. Clinton's WTO agenda, which calls for a working group within the organization to address workers' rights. But he has been a harsh critic of bringing in China, given Beijing's human rights record.

Tuesday, Mr. Clinton expressed sympathy for demonstrators who want the WTO to be more open about its decision-making and give greater protections for workers and the environment as markets open wider to trade.

"I also strongly, strongly believe that we should open the process up to all those people who are now demonstrating on the outside," he said before the violence. "They ought to be a part of it, and I think we should strengthen the role and the interest of labor and the environment in our trade negotiations."

"I think, you know, more people are going to demand to be heard," he aid. "And I think that's a good thing."