Sunday, August 29, 2004

"Today, we send our message"

NEW YORK (AP) -- Protesters poured into Manhattan's streets by the thousands Sunday to protest the war in Iraq and demonstrate against other Bush administration policies on the eve of the Republican National Convention.

Marchers planned to chart a circular course through the security-laden city to the convention site at Madison Square Garden and then back south again.

"Today, we send our message," said Leslie Cagan, a leader of United for Peace and Justice, which sponsored the march, expected to be the largest demonstration of the convention week. (Special report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

The group had sued to force the city to allow a rally in Central Park -- a bid rejected last week by a state judge. City officials said the event would damage lawns in the park. (Sources: NYPD, protest group agree on rally site)

Unfolding in sweltering heat and humidity, the march followed several days of protests by an array of activist groups, with more than 300 people arrested so far.

"We are the majority of this country. The majority of this country opposes the war," said filmmaker and vocal Bush critic Michael Moore, who addressed thousands of people gathering 10 blocks south of the convention site.

Nearby, spectators poked their heads out of apartment windows along Seventh Avenue. Some demonstrators batted an inflatable, 6-foot globe.

One sign echoed Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam-era remark: "How do you ask a soldier to be the last person to die for a lie?"

The most rancorous demonstration was on Friday, when 264 people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct in a protest bicycle ride that snaked through the city near the convention site. (Protesters arrested)

Saturday was far calmer, with 25 people arrested in convention-related incidents, bringing the total for the three days to 311, police said.

But the past three days were a mere prelude to demonstrations planned for Sunday.

Besides the march, several other events were planned, including a gay rights demonstration and a vigil in Central Park by a group of September 11 families opposed to the Iraq war.

"I hope we show a strong dissent," said Laura Pessieri, 27, a protester from New Jersey who carried a sign showing Bush alongside the slogan, "An Imminent Threat to Democracy."

The New York Daily News made a pitch for calm on Sunday, publishing a front-page editorial with the headline, "Play Nice."

On the city's subways and regional commuter lines, security was tight and visible, with police making frequent walks through train cars and eyeing passengers up and down.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a radio address Sunday, acknowledged the intense feelings on both sides but said the convention was an important event for New York.

He promised all-out efforts to ensure safety.

"We've put in place a security plan that is thorough, measured, and that protects the rights of convention-goers and protesters without unnecessarily getting in the way of New Yorkers as we go about our daily lives," Bloomberg said.

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