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WAR WITH IRAQ / THE HOME FRONT

Rush-Hour Protest Clogs Manhattan's Fifth Avenue

A symbolic 'die-in' to support war's victims is among incidents leading to more than 200 arrests.

March 28, 2003|John J. Goldman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Antiwar protesters chanting "Peace now!" blocked Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center during Thursday morning's rush hour and by evening police had arrested 215 demonstrators in that and other incidents.

Organizers of a group labeling itself M27 called for civil disobedience throughout the city.

The symbolic "die-in" at Rockefeller Center, which drew an estimated 400 protesters, was designed to show support for Iraqi war victims. Later, members of the same group staged a mock funeral on Fifth Avenue while a dozen people tried to block the entrance to Tiffany & Co. several blocks to the north.

Five protesters were arrested during a scuffle outside the offices of CNN in Manhattan.

Police were well prepared for the Fifth Avenue protest during which activists lay in the street blocking traffic, including buses crowded with workers trying to get to midtown offices.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bush's war has to go," some of the demonstrators shouted.

Police had set up barricades to contain the demonstrators to the sidewalks, and a police helicopter helped coordinate arrests.

Occasionally, the demonstrators were heckled by a handful of people supporting the war.

There were arguments about the propriety of U.S. action in Iraq. One man held up a sign reading, "Traitors, have you forgotten Sept. 11?" But police had little difficulty in keeping people with opposing views apart.

In calling for the demonstration -- patterned after much larger antiwar actions in San Francisco -- organizers said they selected Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center because it is home to media outlets and large corporations, some of which could profit from rebuilding Iraq.

Protesters charged the war was "setting the stage for a humanitarian disaster of untold proportions."

With far less fanfare Wednesday, 16 people who blocked a Fifth Avenue intersection were arrested. Like the larger group held Thursday, they were charged with disorderly conduct.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly sought to draw the line between peaceful demonstrators and scofflaws.

"This is more than protest, more than free speech," Kelly said.

"We're talking about violating the law."

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