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Dozens hurt in Miami free trade protests

March against treaty ends in violence as youths, police clash

MIAMI -- In a violent conclusion to a day of dramatic protests against free trade in the Americas, armored police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a rowdy crowd of about a thousand youthful protesters yesterday, leaving dozens with chemicals spray burns and welts.

The protest's main event was a march through downtown Miami organized by major trade unions, who oppose the proposal under discussion at nearby Hotel Inter-Continental to create a single set of market rules across the Western Hemisphere except for Cuba -- a region of about 800 million people. It was the first major anti-globalization protest on US soil since September 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks shifted the country's focus toward security.

With a wall of Teamsters in "AFL-CIO Peacekeepers" shirts interposed between police and the 10,000 to 20,000 marchers carrying union banners and giant puppets, the march focused on warning that free trade would undermine local democracy and lead to a loss of high-wage jobs and environmental protections.

"I don't think the [agreement] is good for our country because big corporations are [leaving] to get labor for half the cost," said 81-year-old Elizabeth Gross, a Boston native who retired to West Palm Beach in 1991. "We don't need that type of trade agreement."

But after the official event ended, about a thousand youths remained behind on Biscayne Boulevard, which runs through the heart of Miami, near a line of police in full riot gear. Beating drums, they marched up to the police and began dancing and shouting slogans against the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

A handful also taunted police, set fire to piles of debris, and tossed water bottles over police lines as authorities used gas, rubber bullets, concussion bombs, and wooden batons to herd the crowd, starting a 90-minute confrontation through a boarded-up downtown Miami.

Two demonstrators were pulled away with bleeding heads after being struck by rubber bullets, while dozens doused their faces and displayed welts. Some threw objects back at police, but one youth who smashed a concrete flowerbed liner to use as projectiles was shouted down by others who urged nonviolence.

At least two dozen people were reported arrested and one officer suffered minor injuries yesterday, which began with an early-morning scuffle between police and several thousand youths who carried their puppets -- representing corporate globalization, militarization, and "people of color" -- to the fenceline but were eventually driven back with batons, pepper spray, and concussion grenades.

"We advised them they had gathered illegally over and over, and at one point someone through a hook over the fence with a rope and tried to pull it down and someone else threw in a smoke canister, so we decided we needed to create space between the protesters and the fence," said Angel Calzadilla, executive assistant to Miami Police Chief John Timoney.

About 40 agencies reportedly sent 2,500 officers in full body armor into the city, flooding downtown Miami with police on foot, on bike, in cars, and on horses, and dominating major intersections. Adding to the war-like atmosphere, police invited local media to "embed" themselves during the week. Several protesters called the display of muscle an "overreaction" and complained that busloads of protesters had been prevented from reaching the downtown.

"You can tell they're trying to intimidate you, like with the Powell Doctrine of `overwhelming force,' " said Toussaint Losier, a Harvard senior who came down from Boston with a seminar led by famed '60s activist Tom Hayden. "Who are they scared of? Me? A bunch of skinny little white kids dressed in black? So it's kind of scary and absurd at the same time."

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