The White House indicates President Clinton will meet with representatives of the thousands of demonstrators in Seattle, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer, but spokesman Joe Lockhart insists the protests won't interfere with the work of the trade summit.
"These are very important issues crucial to the future of our economy and the world economy," he said. "There are people with views on all sides."
"We should open the process up to all those people demonstrating on the outside," Mr. Clinton declared in the Oval Office. "They should be part of it."
He expressed sympathy with those demonstrators worried about the environment.
"I'm very sympathetic with a lot of causes of all those people now demonstrating," he said.
The president will use his own visit to the trade meeting to call for lowering trade barriers but his spokesman notes Mr. Clinton will be there as a host and not a negotiator.
Just hours before the opening of the World Trade Organization conference, activists took their message to the streets, announcing plans for mass acts of civil disobedience when the ministerial conference begins Tuesday.
At least 500 protesters - some on stilts and wearing butterfly costumes, others wielding massive papier-maché puppets - marched through the trendy Capitol Hill district Sunday under blue skies and record temperatures in the high 50s.
|CBS News Correspondent David Dow is among the press corps covering the problems at the WTO meeting.|
A spokesman for Direct Action Network, which sponsored the rally, said demonstrators on Tuesday intend to lie down in streets and lock themselves to fence posts or to each other. Their goal: preventing delegates from entering the downtown convention center for the start of the talks.
Authorities, meanwhile, are blocking off part of downtown Seattle around the convention to keep spectators at a distance, reports Correspondent Amy Clancy of CBS affiliate KIRO-TV. Inside the center, bomb-sniffing dogs and investigators are scouring the premises, making the safety of delegates their top priority.
Activists even took their message to the skies. A plane trailing a banner saying "People Over Profits: Stop WTO" circled the Space Needle, which was packed with tourists on two levels.
|CBS News Special Coverage|
A group of about 60 activists occupied an privately owned but abandoned downtown apartment building Sunday night, saying housing for the homeless and poor has been a casualty of global free trade. They said the homeless would be welcome, and they called on the city of Seattle to do more to help those who live on the streets.
No police officers were at the scene an hour after the takeover occurred, although a precinct station is a block from the 12-unit building.
Protesters say it's only a taste of things to come.
A total of 50,000 anti-WTO activists - with interests ranging from the environment to farm subsidies - are expected to arrive here this week for what they're calling "The Battle in Seattle" or alternately, "Carnival against Capitalism."
At issue is the Geneva-based WTO's sweeping power to enforce international trade agreements. Trade ministers from 135 nations will attend.
At an international labor conference at the Port of Seattle on Sunday, union leaders said the WTO could be damaged irreparably if it does not address workers' rights this week.
"If the trade ministers fail to act ... they could set in train the beginning of the end of WTO," Bill Jordan, general secretary of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, told the gathering.
The colorful protesters on the streets of Capitol Hill took a militant stance.
"The WTO as it is now is really unreformable," said Dan Taylor, a 21-year-old organizer. "It needs to be torn down. We need to ook at our trade relationships with other countries and rethink the way it's been set up."
Another organizer told KIRO-TV he planned to be non-violent. "I mean, if I get arrested, I get arrested, but I don't know, " he said.