100,000 march in Manhattan against Bush

MORE than 100,000 protesters flooded the streets of Manhattan yesterday as a rainbow coalition of anti-war, anti-capitalist, gay rights and pro-choice campaigners united in a march against President George Bush.

As delegates gathered for the Republican National Convention, which opens in New York today, activists gathered in the baking sunshine to display placards promoting a range of causes.

The protests started in a carnival atmosphere, with the only tension coming when activists encountered a group of conservative campaigners who had gathered to taunt the marchers with pro-war placards.

The crowd was addressed by Michael Moore, the filmmaker, who told protesters their anti-Bush sentiment represented the mainstream opinion in the United States and the world.

"We are the majority of this country. The majority of this country opposes the war," he said.

Dressed in shorts and his trademark baseball cap, he asked activists to treat any Republicans they encountered with sympathy rather than contempt. "We want to welcome them here because we know they feel a little depressed," he said. "The end is near for them."

However, John Kerry, the Democrat contender in the White House race, was himself the butt of several chants from protesters denouncing him as an echo of Mr Bush. One placard referred to "Bush-Kerry Republicrats", another read "Bush, Kerry: capitalist oppressors".

Islamic groups protesting against American "imperialism" and gay rights activists contesting Mr Bush’s plans to ban civil unions for same-sex couples were among those united under the slogan "Save America: Defeat Bush".

The overwhelming theme was against the president. "Elect a madman, you get madness," read one banner. "Let’s solve the real intelligence gap," said another, beside a picture of Mr Bush with a red line through him.

Leslie Cagan, the leader of the United Peace and Justice group which sponsored the march, said yesterday it was intended to unify the diverse coalitions.

"We come from all walks of life, from cities and towns across this nation and together we will march peacefully, and we will say no to the Bush agenda."

There were some opponents of the march. Aristides Falcon Paradi, a Cuban exile now a professor at the University of Columbia, shouted at the protesters: "Keep on marching. March south. March to Cuba - you’ll see what a fascist is like."

Beside Mr Paradi, an evangelical Christian from Florida held an anti-abortion banner, somewhat lost among the banners held by the throngs of pro-choice campaigners. Meanwhile, Julia Shafir, an insurance lawyer, held a banner proclaiming "Communists For Kerry". She was motivated, she said, by a "liberal consensus".

The police broke up arguments before they became heated and the march looked set to end without incident in Union Square.

However, many protesters said they would later defy a police ruling and convene in Central Park - where they have been denied permission to congregate. There was talk of a "people’s picnic" after crowds dispersed following the march.

Police have warned they have the capacity to make 1,000 arrests each day of the convention, and have already tested their apparatus of plastic handcuffs and makeshift cells on cyclists who ended a mass ride around Manhattan with a sit-down protest.

Arrests started when one officer was hit with spaghetti. Police then started loading cyclists into specially prepared arrest buses, and piled confiscated bikes on to a lorry. By the end of the evening, 264 had been charged with breach of the peace.

Officers are also taking photographs of the demonstrators - a strategy intended, they say, to protect police against accusations of brutality. Helicopters were also hovering over protesters yesterday.

The New York Daily News yesterday issued its own pitch for calm. "Play Nice" said the headline above a front-page editorial.

Jesse Jackson, the black civil rights activist and Danny Glover, the actor, were among the famous personalities who joined Michael Moore in leading yesterday’s crowd.

Inside the convention arena, a collection of Wall Street banks have got together to provide shelter for the delegates who do not want to stray into the activist-laden streets of the city.

Laying on a steady flow of champagne-charged receptions designed to run around the clock, any vaguely senior Republican involved in regulating banks has found a soire in their honour.

The late-night parties are followed by breakfast seminars held at a selection of Manhattan’s swankiest venues.

Some 5,000 Republican delegates arrived in New York yesterday, greeted by volunteers carrying "welcome" placards.

Mr Bush was on the campaign trail in West Virginia yesterday.