- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 28, 2004

NEW YORK — Police and protesters faced off last night, resulting in numerous arrests and turmoil in a five-block area near the East Village in the first sizeable skirmish ahead of the Republican National Convention that begins here Monday.

Nearly 250 people were arrested while participating in the Critical Mass protest by bike riders who gathered around 7 p.m. in Union Square, a popular staging ground for demonstrations and political activity in Lower Manhattan. Most apparently wanted to block traffic.

Earlier in the evening, thousands of cyclists from Critical Mass, an advocacy group that promotes cyclists’ causes and organizes monthly rides through the city, peacefully traversed the streets, at some points escorted by police on scooters.

“The people who were arrested were in a group that was not moving and blocking side streets; they were blocking ambulances,” said Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne of the New York Police Department.

During the scuffle, an army of city police officers lined both sides of Second Avenue and faced jeering protesters. At one point, half-filled water bottles and beer cans were hurled at the officers.

Expecting some sort of disruption, city police officers handed out notices to the riders that warned: “Bicyclists may not impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic. Intentionally impeding governmental and emergency vehicles is a serious offense.”

The notice said that any violators of these polices would be subject to arrest.

The demonstration lasted several hours, with many participants wearing anti-Bush T-shirts and shouting political slogans critical of the Republican Party, including “No More Bush.”

“These people were warned that if they violated the law they would be arrested. They knew ahead of time what they were doing,” Mr. Browne said.

Dozens of arrested protesters were detained in plastic handcuffs, their bikes impounded. Many locals in the mostly Democratic city stopped to applaud the cyclists as they passed through a bustling Times Square.

“I think [police] want to set a precedent for how they want people to protest,” said cyclist Jennifer Brustein. “This is a big time for us to show that we won’t be intimidated.”

More demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

The biggest anti-Bush demonstration is set for tomorrow, when more than 200,000 are expected to march to decry the Bush administration’s economic policies, the war in Iraq and what they see as the erosion of civil liberties in the United States after the September 11 attacks.

The group organizing the march was denied a permit to rally in Central Park for the reason that such a large crowd would damage the grass.

An unprecedented security effort has been put in place to protect the Republican convention after Washington said the event, and last month’s Democratic convention in Boston, were possible terrorist targets.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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