- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Hundreds of environmentalists yesterday commandeered Al Gore's campaign headquarters in Olympia, Wash., to protest the vice president's ties to Occidental Petroleum, which plans to drill for oil on sacred Indian grounds.

Ten protesters were arrested during the seven-and-a-half-hour standoff, police said. No injuries were reported, although the Gore campaign accused protesters of breaking windows.

It was the second time this year that police arrested environmentalists protesting Mr. Gore's ties to Occidental. During the primary season, eight persons were jailed in New Hampshire after disrupting a Gore event by demanding he sever ties to the oil giant.

Yesterday's protest began around noon when a small group of environmentalists entered the warehouse-style building that houses Mr. Gore's local campaign in Olympia.

"As the afternoon wore on, the group swelled to about 200," said Gore spokeswoman Maria Meier. "Some of them chose to get violent. I don't know if that was because cameras showed up, but I understand some windows were broken."

Environmentalist Kim Marks insisted she and the protesters were nonviolent, in the tradition of the U'wa Indians. "We just took over Al Gore's headquarters office," she told The Washington Times by phone from inside the campaign building.

The protesters were upset about Occidental's plans to drill on lands claimed by U'wa Indians in Colombia. Mr. Gore controls at least half a million dollars worth of Occidental stock.

"We're not leaving until Occidental Petroleum is off their land and until the Colombian military as well is off their land," Miss Marks vowed. "We're staying here until at least Al Gore takes some sort of stand."

At one point, police gave the demonstrators a choice leave or be arrested. Most of them promptly exited the building, although about 10 remained, making their bodies go limp so that it was difficult for police to haul them outside.

For the last several hours of the standoff, only three demonstrators remained inside Gore headquarters. They fastened U-shaped bicycle locks around their necks and sat back-to-back, locked to each other in such a way that police found it difficult to move them.

"If they tried to move any one of them, they would risk breaking the others' necks," Miss Marks explained.

Finally, shortly after 7:30 p.m. local time, police managed to evict the final three protesters, who were given stern warnings but not arrested.

Miss Marks said the protest was designed to call attention to Mr. Gore's inaction on the U'wa Indian standoff. The tribe has threatened to commit mass suicide if Occidental proceeds with plans to drill on lands the Indians consider sacred.

But Miss Meier said the vice president has already taken action by asking Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright earlier this summer to make sure the rights of the U'wa Indians were not being trampled.

"Beyond that, to what level does a politician involve himself in business decisions?" she asked.

Besides, Miss Meier said, the vice president does not actually own the Gore family's Occidental stock, which is in a trust for his mother.

"He does not own stock in Occidental," Miss Meier emphasized.

That did not satisfy Miss Marks.

"That's not the type of president that we want," she said. "We want somebody who can take a leadership role. He's supposed to be the green candidate, the environmental candidate. As an absolute bare minimum, he needs to denounce publicly, not privately Occidental's goals in Colombia."

• Robert Stacy McCain contributed to this report.

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