- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

NEW YORK — A sprawling political protest march yesterday snaked through the streets of Manhattan on the eve of the Republican National Convention, drawing hundreds of thousands of people who called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and an end to the Bush presidency.

The march traversed 80 blocks through the heart of Manhattan, from Madison Square Garden, where the convention begins today, to Union Square.

Police, ubiquitous along the parade route, reported 135 arrests during the five-hour march and at least 60 last night among smaller groups of demonstrators. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said the bulk of the arrests were for disorderly conduct.

The crowd size was estimated by organizers to be 400,000. Unofficially, police put the number at about half that.

The demonstrators marched loudly, banging drums, chanting and displaying signs and banners.

In addition to their opposition to President Bush and his administration’s policies, the protesters expressed a plethora of grievances with placards and T-shirts.

“Impeach Clarence Thomas,” read one T-shirt. “Shut up, white boy,” declared another shirt, worn by a young Middle Eastern woman. “We’re all Palestinians” was one young man’s message. Some protesters carried the Palestinian flag.

Many of the demonstrators decried the war in Iraq and, in a now familiar refrain from Democrats, branded the president a “liar” who used duplicity to engage in the war.

There were sign-carrying “New York teachers against Bush” and “Gays against Bush,” many of them also wearing “Kerry for President” buttons. One man wore a button with a swastika that read “Vote Republican.”

Volunteers from the Democratic National Committee, also wearing Kerry buttons, stood along the cramped sidewalks, seeking to register voters.

The parade, organized by a group called United for Peace and Justice, started out at noon, led by film director Michael Moore and actor Danny Glover, both of whom are known for their strident criticism of all things Republican. The Rev. Jesse Jackson also joined the marchers.

Protesters spray-painted their messages on the streets and slapped their stickers on any surface available.

A massive police presence surrounded the demonstrators. Roads were blocked off, and squad cars moved about to keep the roads clear for the marchers. Packs of officers stood on every street corner along the route of the parade, which was, for the most part, orderly.

Civil-liberties watchdogs on the streets praised the police for their restraint.

“This is calmer, police-wise, than it has ever been before,” said Joshua Sanders, part of a group of legal monitors for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The police are not nearly as aggressive as they have been in the past.”

In one incident outside Madison Square Garden, 15 persons were arrested, including nine charged with felony assault on police officers. The arrests occurred after one protester, part of a group of self-described anarchists, ignited a papier-mache dragon. As police moved to detain that suspect, several other anarchists joined in the fray. One officer was struck above the left eye with a thrown bottle, a police spokesman said.

About 50 bicyclists were arrested at about 1:30 p.m. at a spot off the parade route. Witnesses said the bikers were riding two and three abreast when they ran into a police barricade.

Another man was arrested at Broadway and 34th Street after he assaulted a member of the Republican counterprotest group, Protest Warriors, known for its humorous signs that mock the leftist agenda. A protester wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt attempted to grab a sign held by a Protest Warrior, then took a swing at the pro-Bush activist who was standing along the parade route.

As he was being carried away by police, the anti-Bush protester said, “They’re not one of us, they’re making us look bad.”

Tom Paladino, who heads the New York chapter of Protest Warriors, said several members of his group were assaulted and shouted down when they tried to join the anti-Bush march.

“We’ve marched in other rallies and we’ve had some hard times, but this one was just too dicey,” Mr. Paladino said. He said that one anti-Bush protester grabbed a megaphone from his hands and smashed it on the street, and that at least 20 of his group’s signs were destroyed by the protesters.

He promised, though, that group members will continue to show up at the major anti-Bush rallies scheduled throughout the week.

The number of arrests reached more than 400 since Friday, when protests surrounding the Republican convention began.

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