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Rebuilding Iraq

War protesters plan march, rally on Common today

By Corey Dade and Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff, 3/29/2003

    Rebuilding Iraq


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Anticipating what could be Boston's largest protest march since Vietnam, Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday warned that police will crack down on anyone ''hell-bent on causing disruption'' on the scale of other protests that have snarled traffic and ended in hundreds of arrests in New York and Washington.

Authorities anticipate up to 50,000 demonstrators will march through downtown and converge on Boston Common for today's protest, which antiwar activists are billing as a peaceful show of force against US military action in Iraq. But police yesterday promised a preemptive show of might, with hundreds of officers deployed along the protesters' route and street barricades. While organizers of the march have condemned civil disobedience, city officials are braced for symbolic "die-ins" -- people splayed in streets blocking traffic -- and other tactics.

"Everybody has a right to express their opinion and in doing so an obligation to respect the law," Menino said. "But we will not let anybody take over our streets."

Yesterday, a small group of students held training sessions on civil disobedience in front of the Boylston MBTA station, in what they called "a day of direct inaction." They practiced blocking streets by running into intersections, but only staying for the duration of "walk" signs.

But Rob Laurent, 20, a Suffolk University student organizer, said students aren't planning any civil disobedience today. A group of them, part of the Boston Campus Anti-War Coalition, will stage a "student feeder march" from Copley Square at 11 a.m. to the Common, where the official rally begins at 11:30.

Though some antiwar activists have escalated disobedience nationwide to draw attention to their cause, organizers of the event, United for Justice With Peace, discouraged law-breaking. The group received a permit from the city to hold the rally and march.

Jennifer Horan, a spokeswoman for the organization, said it "has decided as a group not to formally endorse civil disobedience. . . . We're committed to upholding our agreement with the police."

Police Commissioner Paul F. Evans said his department has a good relationship with the group based on the peacefulness of its past demonstrations. He expects, however, that some protesters will decide to disrupt traffic or cause other disturbances.

"It is our experience that 99 percent-plus of the protesters are there to be heard," Evans said. "But there are some who, if given the opportunity, will commit violence and the destruction of property. We have information that these groups will be there. We know who they are, and we've been closely monitoring them in the protests last week."

Evans said that the department doesn't plan to make mass arrests but that officers have been given authority to take appropriate action at the scene. "Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis," he said. "I'm confident in the decisions that will be made by my on-scene commanders."

Horan said she expects a good showing, largely because a rally in Boston on Nov. 3, long before the war began, drew 15,000 people. Horan said protesters from across New England have organized buses and carpools to today's event. Speakers for the rally portion include Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo and Chuck Turner and Iraqi expatriate Rana Abdul-Aziz, a Tufts student with relatives living in Baghdad. The march, scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m., will be led by members of the groups Veterans for Peace and Military Families Speak Out. The route continues on to Hereford Street, then to Boylston Street, Charles Street, and circles back to the Common through the Public Garden.

Authorities have made a host of accommodations for the marchers that promise to inconvenience motorists, who have been discouraged from driving into downtown today because of expected tie-ups related to Sunday's opening of the Big Dig. The MBTA has added trains to the Orange and Red lines and extended the running times of the commuter lines to encourage the use of public transportation.

Parking has been restricted since Thursday throughout Back Bay, and towing will be strictly enforced. For residents of Back Bay barred from parking near their homes, the city has opened discounted garage rates on Dalton Street and at Northeastern University's Columbus Avenue structure in the South End.

Meanwhile, some local groups are planning gatherings to support the US-led invasion. Today in Garvey Park in Dorchester, about 200 people are expected to gather under the name Support Our Soldiers and assemble care packages to send to troops.

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