Friday, September 5, 2008

Police Arrest 200 in March on GOP Convention

Police Arrest 200 in March on GOP Convention

By RYAN J. FOLEY and MARTIGA LOHN

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Police surrounded and arrested about 200 protesters Thursday night after a lengthy series of marches and sit-ins timed to coincide with Sen. John McCain's acceptance of the Republican Party's nomination for president.

Caught up in the clash were several reporters assigned to cover the event, including Amy Forliti and Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press. Officers ordered them to sit on the pavement on a bridge over Interstate 94 and to keep their hands over their heads as they were led away two at a time.

The arrests came three days after AP photographer Matt Rourke, also on assignment covering the protests, was arrested. He was released without being charged Monday after being held for several hours. Forliti and Krawczynski, who were among at least 19 members of the media detained, were issued citations for unlawful assembly and released.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said the St. Paul police department and its police chief decided that members of the media would be issued citations and released.

Fletcher said he expected most of the charges would be for unlawful assembly.

"Whoever got arrested was whoever didn't disperse and was still on the bridge," Fletcher said. "The tactic of blocking people on the bridge could very well have prevented a lot of activity later tonight. Clearly there were a number of people with no intention of being law-abiding tonight."

The confrontation resulted in at least 200 arrests, Fletcher said. Protesters had gone ahead with a planned march near the state Capitol even though their permit had expired.

The protest began at 4 p.m. with a rally on the Capitol Mall. When marchers tried an hour later to march from the Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, where McCain accepted his party's nomination for president, they were stopped by lines of police in gas masks and riot gear.

Police told them their permit to march expired at 5 p.m.

Marchers tried to cross two different bridges leading from the Capitol to the Republican National Convention site but were blocked by the officers backed by snow plows and other vehicles.

A cat-and-mouse game followed as protesters moved around the Capitol area, splintered, and then organized into a marching force again. The size of the crowd varied from a high of about 1,000 down to a hundred and back to around 500.

About three hours into the standoff, about 300 protesters sat down on a major thoroughfare and police closed the four-lane boulevard. Officers then set off smoke bombs and fired seven percussion grenades, causing protesters to scatter.

Some of the scattering protesters entered a residential area north of the Capitol. Later, at least three smoke bombs were discharged in the area of apartments and houses.

About two hours into the standoff, police began arresting people and police were still processing people more than three hours later.

"The important thing is even though we didn't have a permit to march, people have decided they want to keep protesting despite all these riot police," said Meredith Aby, a member of the Anti-War Committee.

Even as protesters were being arrested, the mood was much more relaxed than earlier in the week. It even turned festive at times.

More than 600 people have been arrested in the past week, most on Monday, when violence broke out at the end of another anti-war march.

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