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Protesters muster for a convention

Marches, rallies prepared in NYC

NEW YORK -- Thousands of protesters are preparing for a succession of marches, vigils, and rallies during the Republican National Convention next week. Performance artists, anarchists, and demonstrators seek to turn parks and streets into a moving stage of raw, jolting emotions directed against the Bush administration and the Iraq war, and in favor of human rights.

Four days before the convention begins in Madison Square Garden on Monday, some protesters launched a sneak preview, including a demonstration in front of the convention site. At least 11 activists were arrested, after many stood naked on Eighth Avenue to protest Bush's record on AIDS. Other demonstrators were arrested after draping a huge anti-Bush banner on the roof of the Plaza Hotel; several others were detained after shouting into a blowhorn in Union Square. In all, 22 people were arrested Thursday, far more than the six taken into custody last month during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

None of those arrested in Manhattan were believed to be anarchists; their plans seem to worry police the most. Other groups have planned nonviolent acts of civil disobedience, and organizers of a large antiwar march set for tomorrow intend to defy court rulings against assembling in Central Park afterward, and to picnic there.

Similarly, a group of low-income activists plans to march from Times Square to Madison Square Garden on Monday, without police permission.

"There are over 100 groups and they are of every color, ethnicity and stripe you can think of," said Neil Kleiman, director for the Center for an Urban Future, a research group based in New York. "I think the form of protest is going to be far more diverse than just your traditional banging on the drums and marching you usually think of."

About 50,000 people are expected to attend the convention, including delegates and journalists. Authorities said 10,000 New York City police officers will be deployed, some riding new scooters. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police authorities suspect that anarchists plan to act up, but have vowed that if so, police will arrest them.

"If anybody is going to break the law, they're going to find that NYPD is going to enforce the law," Bloomberg said.

Tensions have been high between protesters and authorities ever since the FBI acknowledged two weeks ago that they have questioned some people around the country who planned to demonstrate at the party conventions.

"The FBI and local law enforcement have demonstrated time and again that both in recent periods and historically, they don't distinguish between lawful political protest -- which is an essential element of democracy -- and criminal activity," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Some protesters have pedaled bicycles or walked for weeks from Boston and Philadelphia to Manhattan, sleeping in church basements and napping beneath overpasses along the way. Some groups have been planning for more than a year. The group that placed the banner on the Plaza Hotel is reported to have practiced for months on a building in Brooklyn.   Continued...

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