New York braced for trouble at Bush rally

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The Independent US

It is still more than two months before the Republican Party descends on New York for its four-day political convention in Madison Square Garden but nerves are already getting frayed. Inside the hall, it will all be choreographed adulation of President George Bush. On the streets outside, the scene may not be so pretty.

It is still more than two months before the Republican Party descends on New York for its four-day political convention in Madison Square Garden but nerves are already getting frayed. Inside the hall, it will all be choreographed adulation of President George Bush. On the streets outside, the scene may not be so pretty.

A coalition of political activist groups, many with anti-Bush and anti-war agendas, has served notice that it intends to make itself heard during the gathering from 30 August to 2 September. One rally, to be staged by United for Peace and Justice, expects a turnout of at least 250,000.

This week, the leaders of the groups accused city officials of deliberately dragging their feet before issuing permits for their demonstrations, protests and marches. The city set a deadline for applications for protest permits for the start of this week. There is no word when those permits may finally be issued.

Making the Republicans feel welcome - and keeping them safe - is turning out to be a logistical nightmare. Terror concerns override all else. But a close second is how to keep delegates and protesters apart. How easy will it be? Already the Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is expecting 1,000 arrests per day during the convention.

It does not help that New York was not Republican-friendly to begin with. The choice of Manhattan was meant as a gesture of solidarity three years after the 11 September attacks. But here Democrats outnumber Republicans by five to one. Mr Bush is not popular.

"What's really complicating the whole security scheme is that, on top of all the protesters and terrorism stuff, is this President," commented John Timoney, who is a former deputy commissioner with the New York Police Department. "There just seems to be this visceral dislike of him, more so than anyone we've seen in the past. The expectation is that you're going to get a lot of motivated people showing up."

This week, the city resorted to running television commercials asking residents to be pleasant to their guests at the end of August. For that task, it hired a former Democrat mayor, Ed Koch.

It is not just the police (and Republicans) who are worried that political expression outside the Garden might quickly degenerate into violence. Other protesters are hoping to make more of an impact by taking a peaceful approach.

"Scenes of confrontation and rage and people being beaten over the head would simply solidify the conviction of swing voters that this city and the demonstrators are a bunch of madmen who can't be trusted with governance," said Milton Glaser, a fervent Democrat and the graphic designer who first became famous with his "I (heart) NY" symbol. Mr Glaser, through radio appearances and advertisements in magazines such as The Nation, has launched a campaign called "Light up the Sky". He wants all those who oppose President Bush to walk around with some form of light during the convention - candles, torches, light-wands or whatever - and to leave their lights on in their homes through the night.

"When the city is ablaze at 3 o'clock in the morning, it will be a silent and overwhelming rebuke and no word needs to be said," he said yesterday. "And the whole world will understand the message."

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