- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | More than 400 protesters have been arrested for an array of activities at this year’s Republican National Convention.

Tom Walsh, a spokesman for St. Paul’s Joint Information Center - a coordinated law enforcement hub set up for the convention - said authorities fired tear gas at “a group trying to breach security and get to the Xcel Energy Center” on Tuesday night. As of 9 p.m., no arrests had been made, he said.

The incident followed the arrests Monday of more than 150 protesters on misdemeanor charges and an additional 130 on felony charges after officials said members of an anarchist group separated from a 10,000-person march and demonstration organized by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War.

Some protesters were responsible for slashing tires on police cars, smashing windows on downtown buildings and assaulting police officers, officials said. Protesters also threw what one official described as a “noxious fluid” on members of the Connecticut convention delegation.

The activities could continue through the week. In a statement on their Web site, members of the self-described “anarchist” organizing body called the RNC Welcoming Committee - which has been the subject of a law enforcement investigation and series of raids last weekend - heralded the actions of “the extraordinary people who stopped buses, blocked highway ramps, and breached concrete barriers to reclaim the streets and recapture the space of downtown St Paul.”

“We are excited about what the next few days may bring, now that the illusion of business as usual has been shattered,” the group said.

Monday’s activities also led to the arrest and injury of journalists covering the protests. Ross Franklin, an Associated Press photographer, said he was hit with pepper spray while with the anarchist group Monday afternoon. He said he was not seriously injured.

“I was just caught up in the melee,” Mr. Franklin said. “It was a lot of people, police.”

AP photographer Matt Rourke was covering the protest when he was swept up by police moving in on a group in downtown St. Paul. “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman was arrested as she asked police in riot gear about the status of two producers - Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar - who had been arrested, one of whom she had heard was bleeding.

Miss Goodman and the producers were released later. In a statement on their Web site, “Democracy Now!” officials said “all three were violently manhandled by law enforcement officers” and the individuals faced charges ranging from suspicion of felony riot to interference with a peace officer.

“Democracy Now! forcefully rejects all of these charges as false and an attempt at intimidation of these journalists,” the statement says. “We demand that the charges be immediately and completely dropped.”

Mr. Rourke was held on a gross misdemeanor riot charge and released early Tuesday. Phil Carruthers, director of the prosecution division of the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, said Monday night that no charges against him were anticipated.

Mr. Walsh said the journalists would not have been swept up in mass arrests and would only have been detained if they had “become involved in the activity.”

He also denied reports that police broke at least one media member’s camera during the chaos.

“There are reports of journalists who were knocked down by protesters who were trying to grab their credentials,” Mr. Walsh said. “To say the cameras were broken by police is not accurate, either.”

Still, the detainments didn’t deter other scheduled activities, although protest groups said they expected continual arrests and clashes with police.

“We’re actually getting a sense that arrests are drastically increasing,” said Jean Stevens, a spokeswoman for the antiwar group Code Pink. “Literally, if you are existing as a person in the wrong place at the wrong time, you could be arrested. That’s what it feels like.”

Members of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign went ahead with a march to the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday to “demand that our government do something about the human rights violations people living in America experience every day.”

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