New York braced for protests at Republican rally

NEW Yorkers, the city’s police department and the FBI, are preparing for a week of massive disruption and possibly violent protests when the Republican party gathers in the Big Apple for its convention at the end of the month.

A ragbag collection of up to 250,000 anti-war, anti-Bush, pro-choice, pro-environment, anti-capitalism and anarchist protesters are expected to converge on the city.

They will collectively participate in the biggest protests at a convention since the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago was overshadowed by violent anti-Vietnam protests.

They dominated news coverage of the convention and helped ensure Richard Nixon was elected to the White House that year.

This year’s protests have the potential to be the largest since the so-called ‘Battle of Seattle’ in 1999. Memories of the 1968 violence in Chicago worry some liberal activists, who fear that a repeat could jeopardise John Kerry’s chances of unseating President George Bush.

"There’s an important message to get out here about how the Bush presidency has been bad for America and bad for New York," said Democratic national committee spokesman Jay Carson. "It would be a shame if that message was drowned out by unruly protests."

The convention has already spawned controversy as the FBI has interviewed more than 50 protesters, alarming civil liberties campaigners who feel that the interviews undermine the first amendment to the US constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said: "Political interrogation without suspicion of criminal activity harkens back to the bad old days of the McCarthy era.

"I believe that the FBI is genuinely concerned about uncovering terrorist activity and violence," she added. "But I also believe that the FBI either does not get or chose not to get the difference between time-honoured, protected dissent, which is at the core of our democracy, and illegal activity."

Nonetheless, the FBI warned this week that it expected violence to erupt at the convention, even though "We don’t have any specific plot where we have all the variables we need to go out and take pre-emptive and judicial action", according to Gary Bald, assistant director of the bureau’s counter-terrorism division.

New York’s Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a moderate Republican, has angered the protesters by denying them a permit to hold a rally in Central Park, arguing that the protests would damage the newly reseeded lawns there.

As a result, protesters have been shunted to the West Side Expressway on western Manhattan. Other rallies, however, will take over almost every other small park in Manhattan while protester websites list the hotels where Republican delegates will stay, suggesting that these, too, will be the focus for protests.

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