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Anti-Bush Protesters Fill N.Y. Streets

On GOP convention's eve, opponents of the president march against the Iraq war. At an Ellis Island rally, Cheney calls him 'the leader we need.'

August 30, 2004|Josh Getlin and David Zucchino | Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK — More than 100,000 demonstrators flooded the streets of Manhattan on Sunday in a strong show of opposition to President Bush and the war in Iraq as this city geared up for the Republican National Convention.

The loud, exuberant march, which at one point filled 40 blocks with people shouting slogans and waving signs, led protesters past Madison Square Garden, site of this week's GOP gathering. Police -- who lined the streets in riot gear -- said the march was peaceful, but they did have scattered scuffles around the city with demonstrators, and arrested more than 200 people.

As the protests took place, Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in New York and was honored at an Ellis Island rally, where he praised Bush's leadership in the war on terrorism, calling him "exactly the leader we need for these difficult times."

The president, who was campaigning in West Virginia, called the war a "catastrophic success." He noted in a Time magazine interview in today's editions that he still would have gone into Iraq, but with different tactics, had he known "that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 09, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Convention protest -- An Aug. 30 article in Section A about protests at the Republican National Convention in New York said that an antiwar group had carried more than 100 flag-draped coffins. Protesters carried 1,000 coffins.

In response, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards said Sunday that Bush was only half right, suggesting "it was catastrophic to rush to war without a plan to win the peace."

Bush's conduct of the war drew angry protests during the march here, which lasted nearly six hours. Organizers, who had lost a lengthy court battle last week to hold a concluding rally in Central Park, called the march a success and estimated the size of the crowd at more than 500,000 people, far exceeding earlier predictions. Police estimated the crowd at 120,000 people.

Either way, the march was expected to be the largest such protest during the GOP gathering, and it drew an unusually big crowd for a U.S. political convention.

The participants, who hit the streets on a steamy afternoon, "were peaceful and they showed that thousands of people can turn out peacefully and make their voices heard," said Bill Dobbs, spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, which organized the event.

The final route, which was agreed to in recent days, called for protesters to march north on Seventh Avenue from Union Square in Greenwich Village before passing Madison Square Garden and looping back on Fifth Avenue to the starting point. After the march ended, several thousand went to Central Park, where they chanted and held signs but did not hold a rally with microphones or a stage.

The arrests included several dozen from a group called Queer Fist, who police said tried to disrupt traffic in the theater district on a night when many GOP delegates were heading to Broadway shows.

The group had marched from the New York Public Library to the theater district, intending to confront Republican delegates, according to the National Lawyers Guild. The guild is monitoring police activities during the convention protests.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told reporters that the protesters laid down and blocked the street. The guild lawyers said police ordered the protesters to disperse, then arrested them before they were able to leave.

Officers also reported arresting about 40 bicyclists who tried to join the march up Seventh Avenue, and others who had set fire to a papier mache dragon as they paraded past Madison Square Garden. Three officers were injured during tussles with demonstrators, who were taken away in buses and vans.

Police noted, however, that most marchers were peaceful. They came from across the nation, representing a variety of causes and political organizations. A mixture of young activists and older veterans of political marches from the 1960s, they were united in the belief that Bush must be defeated.

"We know that American protesters who marched in the street helped end the Vietnam War, and they also played a role in ending apartheid in South Africa," said George Martin, a veteran activist from Milwaukee. "That's what we're trying to say with today's march, that you can still change the world. You must never stop trying."

The march began just before noon, with demonstrators blowing whistles, pounding drums and shouting antiwar slogans. As they moved up Seventh Avenue, they were cheered by large numbers of people watching from apartments and offices lining the street. Large signs reading "Defeat Bush Now" were draped from high-rise buildings.

Although the parade route resembled an armed camp, with helicopters buzzing overhead and squads of police stationed on every block, the march had a festive, party-like mood.

"I still believe in an America where we don't engage in illegal wars," said Debby Churchman, a writer and teacher from Arlington, Va. "We don't have to kill innocent people to make this country safe. What we need is new presidential leadership."

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