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THE NATION

Conferences End in Flare of Protest Activity

Meetings: Colombia activists are arrested while pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel camps clash to cap weekend of Capitol demonstrations.

April 23, 2002|MEGAN GARVEY and ROBERT PATRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A long weekend of multithemed protests came to a close Monday with the arrest of several dozen Colombia solidarity activists at the Capitol and a boisterous but orderly pro-Palestinian demonstration near the annual conference of a powerful pro-Israel group.

The day began with hundreds of people participating in civil disobedience by conducting a march without a permit against U.S. military involvement in Colombia.

After pledging to remain peaceful, the marchers zig-zagged across the Mall and toward Capitol Hill, where small groups broke off to perform "die-ins," which Eric LeCompte, one of the protest organizers, said "commemorated the terrible massacres that have taken place in Colombia."

Protesters Try to Block Traffic

U.S. Capitol police arrested 37 participants who stretched out on the ground in an attempt to block traffic coming to the Capitol.

Those arrested were placed in plastic handcuffs and taken without incident to a waiting bus.

After negotiating with police, the marchers were eventually allowed to enter the park, where a wooden stand had been set up for speeches and songs.

In the afternoon, tensions ran hotter at a noisy rally on a major Washington thoroughfare that filled a city block with demonstrators for more than five hours.

A block from a meeting of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, at the Washington Hilton, scores of Palestinian supporters demanding a sovereign state shouted anti-Israel chants while a phalanx of law enforcement officials stood guard behind metal barriers.

At times, tempers came close to boiling over. Near a back entrance to the hotel, which was barricaded on all sides by police blocking the streets, AIPAC delegates and protesters screamed at each other.

"Have you ever seen the brutality and violence of a suicide bomber?" said Art Beroff, an AIPAC delegate from Howard Beach, N.Y., as police held him back from the Palestinian flag-waving protesters on the other side of the barrier.

Supporters of Israel and Palestinians Clash

"When tanks go into [Palestinian] homes, when women and children are hurt, how can you justify that?" countered Ture Bokar, a student at the University of Virginia.

As a handful of AIPAC delegates and protesters continued to clash, dozens of Washington police in full riot gear appeared, running from around the corner.

Police then set up orange cones to form a buffer zone between the two groups.

Later, near the site of the main rally, a few men wearing yarmulkes and carrying Israeli flags were pushed down the street by the surging crowd.

As police on motorcycles moved quickly to intervene, organizers from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee used bullhorns to urge protesters to back off.

"This is what they want you to do," said one young women, instructing the crowd to remain peaceful.

Asked about the likelihood of changing U.S. policy toward Israel when so many powerful U.S. politicians were attending or speaking at the AIPAC conference, the pro-Palestinian organizers said they believed the weekend's protests were a start.

"It begins in the streets," said Mark Lance, a spokesman for the group SUSTAIN, which helped organize the rally and a Saturday march that drew tens of thousands.

"There's going to be a change in this country as more people see the brutality in Jenin and other Palestinian cities," he said.

Washington police reported no arrests at the rally.

"So far so good," said Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who stood at an intersection near the hotel Monday afternoon.

Thousands of anti-globalization protesters marched in Washington over the weekend, drawn by World Bank and International Monetary Fund meetings that concluded Sunday. Ramsey said the protests went smoothly because organizers and police worked together.

Demonstration Remains Peaceful

"People have a right to demonstrate," Ramsey said. "But they do not have a right to destroy property or endanger other people's lives. I think after Sept. 11 most groups are making an effort not to be seen as violent."

In a scene that would have been difficult to imagine two years ago, when his force arrested nearly 1,300 anti-World Bank protesters, Ramsey was asked by several in attendance whether he would pose for pictures.

"Absolutely," he told one young man, who just minutes before had been screaming over a line of police officers, trying to make his point heard by AIPAC attendees.

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