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Tens of Thousands Protest War

More than 1,350 are arrested in San Francisco, while a tamer crowd turns out on L.A.'s Westside. In Athens, 100,000 march.

March 21, 2003|John M. Glionna and Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands of protesters -- some joined together with heavy plastic pipe to thwart police -- snarled traffic and closed businesses here in a chaotic "festival of resistance" that was one of many antiwar demonstrations across the nation Thursday.

By 8 p.m., more than 1,350 had been arrested in San Francisco as roving bands closed down parts of the financial district, frustrating police, infuriating commuters and prompting cheers from bystanders. Organizers said the crowd topped 10,000.

As night fell, the protesters surged onto ramps leading to the Bay Bridge, which police closed for more than an hour, clogging rush-hour traffic on the double-decked, four-mile span between San Francisco and Oakland.

"We went from what I would call legal protests to absolute anarchy," said Alex Fagan Sr., San Francisco's assistant police chief.

In largely nonviolent protests around the world and across the country, antiwar demonstrators marched, staged sit-ins and "die-ins" and blocked traffic.

A crowd estimated at more than 100,000 marched on the U.S. Embassy in Athens. More than 30,000 turned out for rallies in Australia. Demonstrators in Italy blocked highways.

In Washington, protesters closed the Key Bridge, a main artery from Virginia to the capital. Others converged in front of the White House, chanting, "No blood for oil!"

Police arrested hundreds of protesters in Philadelphia for blocking a federal building near Independence Hall. In New York City, thousands thronged Times Square.

Several thousand demonstrators snarled traffic on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue, two of the city's principal thoroughfares. There were several arrests.

Protesters in Portland, Ore., smashed in three windows at a McDonald's restaurant, while another sprayed graffiti on a sign at a Shell gas station. About 35 people were arrested.

In Westwood, at least 500 demonstrators chanted antiwar slogans and blocked traffic by lying down on Wilshire Boulevard in front of the federal building for a few seconds before hopping back up out of the way. Several were arrested after later confrontations with police.

In San Diego, about 1,200 people gathered in front of the federal building and marched through downtown. And at UC Berkeley, where about 2,000 protested the war, police arrested 120 who moved into a campus administration building. Other campus demonstrations, including one at Cal State Northridge, were less disruptive.

California Gov. Gray Davis, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn and Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton issued separate public pleas for the protesters to restrain themselves, saying the demonstrations were not only interrupting traffic and commerce but also diverting police from their regular duties.

San Franciscans, in particular, seemed immune to such appeals. Protesters in the city blocked as many as 50 intersections in demonstrations throughout the day.

Show of Unity

As helmeted police carrying riot batons moved in, demonstrators sat down in unison, later flashing the two-finger peace sign as they were dragged away.

Some activists joined themselves with chains and pipes, forcing firefighters to saw them apart. The work sent sparks into the air as the demonstrators shook their fists.

"The entire downtown area has been severely affected. At some points, everything is at a standstill," said San Francisco police spokesman Dewayne Tully. "It's been a very frustrating day for police officers. With all these moving bands, we cannot be proactive. All we can do is react."

After filling police vans, authorities used city buses to take arrestees to a waterfront warehouse. Most were issued citations for misdemeanors: blocking traffic and failing to heed police orders. Many returned to the demonstrations after their release, police said.

The protests shut down several businesses, including a Wells Fargo bank branch on Market Street, the financial district's main artery. Several bank customers were turned away as police told them that the building was closed.

"They're accomplishing exactly what they wanted to," an officer said of the protesters.

The demonstration began about 7 a.m., with chanting demonstrators playing cat and mouse with police -- blocking traffic for minutes, or even hours, and then dividing as officers moved in to make arrests.

Groups of up to 20 signaled their solidarity with similar signs, music and clothing. They dubbed themselves with names such as the French Kissers, Yoga for Peace and the Radical Cheerleaders. Some came in mourning dress, others were attired as court jesters.

In a well-coordinated series of maneuvers, demonstrators attached themselves in chains of up to a dozen. Firefighters used carbide saws to cut through the metal or heavy plastic pipes that linked the demonstrators.

"We had our work cut out for us," said San Francisco Fire Department spokesman Lt. Barry Wong. "We cut only enough to weaken the pipe so we didn't injure people."

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