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597 Arrested in Vigil Linking Army School to Slayings

November 17, 1997|Associated Press

FT. BENNING, Ga. — Nearly 600 protesters attempting to deliver petitions calling for the closing of the Army's School of the Americas were arrested Sunday after defying police orders and entering Ft. Benning.

The demonstrators--including priests, nuns, veterans and students--marched for two miles carrying eight cardboard coffins filled with the petitions. The school's headquarters is just inside the post.

Nearly 2,000 people gathered for the demonstration, which ended a four-day vigil marking the eighth anniversary of the slaying of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador. Protesters say 19 of the 26 military officers cited in the killings had attended the School of Americas.

"We are growing in number. We are never going to stop until we close the School of the Americas," said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the protest group SOA Watch.

Most of the 597 arrested were charged with trespassing and were released Sunday evening. Bourgeois was arrested for violating an order, stemming from an earlier protest, excluding him from the post.

Opponents of the school have demonstrated at the post every year since 1990. The school moved here from Panama in 1984 and trains Latin American soldiers. Critics claim it has been a training ground for dictators and their henchmen, but supporters say it provides training in democratic principles and human rights.

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