Protesters Pleased as Bomb Threat Disrupts WTO Convention Site

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Protesters who vowed to shut down global trade talks got their wish on Monday as a security scare forced evacuation of the Seattle convention center where officials from 135 countries were scheduled to meet. Armed police teams with bomb-sniffing dogs carried out a painstaking sweep of the cavernous facility that lasted 5-1/2 hours before it was reopened.

Helicopters circled overhead, and at one point two fire trucks arrived with sirens blaring. Illustrating how nervous authorities are about attacks on the WTO meeting, which starts officially on Tuesday, police said the shutdown was in reaction only to a "potential security breach.'' "We had reason to believe someone may have entered the building,'' said Clem Benton, a Seattle police spokesman, giving no further details. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the scare, although protesters rejoiced at the disruption. The convention center was evacuated shortly before 5 a.m. (1300 GMT) when a police officer spotted something suspicious. It was reopened at about 10:30 a.m. (1830 GMT). "There was nothing found inside, persons or packages,'' Benton said. Delegates and journalists lined up for about 300 yards (meters) to get into the building once it was reopened.

The trade meetings, scheduled to end December 3rd, are aimed at launching a new round of negotiations to reduce tariffs and other trade barriers in sectors ranging from agriculture and construction to entertainment, telecommunications and electronic commerce. Opponents say freer trade benefits big business at the expense of workers, communities and the environment