Thousands arrested in battle for New York

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The Independent US

There have been complaints and plaudits for the New York police this week as they toiled to contain myriad protests that erupted in Manhattan, arresting almost 2,000 people over four days, but mostly managing to keep activists away from the Republican Convention.

There have been complaints and plaudits for the New York police this week as they toiled to contain myriad protests that erupted in Manhattan, arresting almost 2,000 people over four days, but mostly managing to keep activists away from the Republican Convention.

Once again yesterday, the streets of the city were coloured dark blue with the uniforms of thousands of police officers, and the skies vibrated with helicopters and a large NYPD airship as commanders braced for more noisy demonstrations on the last night of the convention, attended by President George Bush.

While many more people have been arrested than at the famously anguished Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, there has been little serious violence, barring any ugly turn of events later last night. Most arrests have come when protesters marched without permits or blocked roads or pavements.

It has been a far cry from the chaos visited on Seattle during the World Trade Organisation summit in 1999, for instance.

However, the police department has been forced on the defensive, in part by claims of poor treatment of those taken into custody, who are initially corralled inside a dilapidated pier warehouse on the Hudson River. Protesters are placed in chain link pens with razor wire around them and forced to wait sometimes as long as eight hours before being bussed elsewhere to be ticketed and then, in most cases, released.

The warehouse, which until recently was a bus garage, has been dubbed "Guantanamo on the Hudson" by some critics, who compare conditions inside to those at the famous base and prison on Cuba filled with detainees from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. There have been claims also of asbestos contamination in the facility.

"It appears they went out of their way to find a place that would be uncomfortable," said Nathan Salsburg, 26, who was arrested last Friday during a cycle rally. "There's no lawyer to be seen. There are no calls out. That is very, very similar to the kind of conditions I hear at Guantanamo Bay." Officials have declined to allow reporters inside the facility.

Without scenes of out-and-out mayhem to capture - no brigades of police charging with shields, no clouds of tear-gas - the media in New York, especially the television, have not paid too much attention to the demonstrators, at least not since the huge, and mostly restrained, march through the city last Sunday.

A dilemma faced the protest organisers from the start. If violence and lawlessness were to break out, they feared that they would be playing straight into the hands of Republicans. But if the protests remain largely peaceful, no one would pay very much attention to them. Even among the protesters, arguments rage about how far to provoke the police.

Jill, a student from Oregon who joined hundreds trying to march on Madison Square Garden, became upset when someone moved a barricade maybe one inch forward. To defuse the tension, she began a chant to show support for the police in a current pay dispute with the city. "Police deserve unions too, Police deserve unions too!" It didn't work; a few seconds later, a melee broke out and several around her were arrested.

Barricades have been the most important tool for the police, as well as rolls of orange plastic netting deployed to capture people they want to arrest. Hundreds of officers have been keeping mobile, meanwhile, on a huge fleet of shiny new motor-scooters, which have replaced horses at demonstrations.

"They are treating peaceful people who want to voice their political views as if they're criminals - scooping people off sidewalks with terrible results," said Bill Dobbs, a spokesman for United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella organisation that sponsored the Sunday march.

This morning, the great clean-up will begin. The delegates will leave town and so will many out-of-town protesters. And, finally, life for New Yorkers on the west side of Manhattan will return to normal.

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