Starbucks stores vandalized as Seattle readies for protests
An unidentified Starbucks customer reads inside the store next to a window damaged by vandals Wednesday, in Seattle. Vandals attacked at least four Starbucks stores early Wednesday, putting the city on edge as it prepared for Thursday's anniversary of last year's riotous World Trade Organization protests. - AP Photo

SEATTLE -- Broken windows and spray-painted walls in nine Starbucks Coffee Co. stores have left this city uneasy as it marks the anniversary of last year's riotous World Trade Organization protests.

The stores, among dozens of Starbucks outlets in the city, were hit late Tuesday or early Wednesday -- with window damage, glue in locks, and walls marked with an encircled "A," a graffiti tag used by anarchists during WTO demonstrations last year.

Authorities hoped the demonstrations scheduled Thursday, including marches, potluck meals and teach-ins, would be peaceful, but the vandalism indicated some protesters might be planning otherwise -- even if there was no direct evidence protesters were responsible for it.

"It's disturbing there were anarchist symbols," said Dick Lilly, a spokesman for Mayor Paul Schell.

Starbucks planned to take extra security measures, but refused to say what they were.

Meanwhile, Schell urged television stations to broadcast as little of last year's events as possible.

"We believe the constant repetition of those images simply builds up any tension that might arise this year," Lilly said.

Last year, 50,000 protesters crammed downtown and shut down part of the WTO session. The WTO, a trade alliance of 139 countries, has become a target for a wide range of activists who believe it represents corporate globalization and takes advantage of the environment and workers.

Overwhelmed Seattle police responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. The ensuing riots resulted in 600 arrests, $3 million in property damage, numerous civil-rights lawsuits and the police chief's sudden early retirement.

By all accounts, this year's protests will be smaller because there will be no conference to disrupt.

Generous estimates predicted as many as 5,000 demonstrators, many of whom planned to converge on Westlake Park downtown. Police have asked them not to protest there because they could disrupt shoppers and a holiday event.

Jean Buskin, a 52-year-old Seattle biochemist coordinating anniversary protests, said she expected no violence.

She said the vandalism was a shame because Starbucks has been receptive to activists' arguments and now offers certified fair-trade coffee, which promotes coffee grown in developing countries by small producers. Starbucks has been criticized as a global symbol of American capitalism and a big business helping turn small-town America into a generic landscape of chain stores.

Some organizations decided to sit out the anniversary protests. Among them was the Machinists union at Boeing, whose members turned out by the thousands last year.

Machinists spokesman Tim Flynn said the workers still want fair, environmentally responsible trade, but have their differences with some protest groups.

"Boeing exports planes all over the world. The Machinists are very trade-dependent, so there's a bit of a nuance there that's different from the other parties involved," Flynn said.

Some environmental groups also were staying away.

Helen Ross, conservation coordinator for the Seattle Audubon Society, said her group was focusing instead on working with individual companies to persuade them to offer environmentally friendly goods.

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