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Pentagon Besieged in Protest on Salvador

October 18, 1988|JOHN M. BRODER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a scene reminiscent of Vietnam War protests 20 years ago, an estimated 1,000 demonstrators gathered before dawn at the Pentagon Monday to try to blockade the building and dramatize their demand for an end to U.S. involvement in the El Salvador civil war.

The protesters, led by several organizers of the 1960s anti-war movement, disrupted traffic and inconvenienced Pentagon workers but had little other visible effect on operations at the Defense Department.

More than 200 demonstrators were arrested for blocking roadways and damaging government property, but the protest generally was peaceful. Most of those arrested were fined $50 and released, although three were held on more serious assault charges, according to authorities.

Police Officers Hurt

Four police officers and one protester suffered minor injuries, officials said.

Beth Perry, a march organizer, declared the event "a tremendous success" but said that 100 protesters who were prepared to be arrested went home disappointed when the demonstration fizzled shortly after noon.

The protesters chanted, "Stop the killing, stop the war, U.S. out of El Salvador," and other slogans and urged Pentagon workers to take the day off. Apparently, none of the federal workers heeded that call, and police officers escorted them through entrances where demonstrators sat three or four deep.

Scuffling With Communists

The action drew a small band from the Revolutionary Communist Party, which burned several American flags and set fire to wooden street signs. "Peacekeepers" from the main protest group tried to chase the communist demonstrators away, causing a few brief scuffles.

The United States has about 150 military advisers in El Salvador and last year sent $270 million in military and economic assistance to the Central American country. Since 1980, the small, impoverished nation has been racked by a civil war that has taken the lives of an estimated 60,000 government troops, communist rebels and civilians.

The demonstrators sought to end the U.S. military presence in El Salvador and bring attention to the plight of Salvadoran civilians who have died at the hands of right-wing "death squads."

Ellsberg on Hand

David Dellinger, who led a massive march on the Pentagon in 1967 to protest the expanding Vietnam War, was one of the organizers of Monday's demonstration. He was joined by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon policy-maker who in 1971 leaked the "Pentagon Papers" describing the buildup of American forces in Southeast Asia, and S. Brian Willson, an anti-war activist who lost his legs when trying to block a munitions train in September, 1987, at the Concord Naval Weapons Station near San Francisco.

The three were not arrested Monday. They were willing, but the police lost interest in their blockade of one of the Pentagon entrances as the protest wound down around midday, Perry said.

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