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RNC preps include protest restrictions

Manhattan helicopter flights held to tight corridors


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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A protest group planning a large anti-President Bush rally the day before the Republican National Convention opens has told the New York City Police Department that it will not use the site designated for it by the city.

The city gave permission for the group to hold the rally on the West Side Highway after a march up Seventh Avenue past Madison Square Garden. (Special Report: America Votes 2004)

The group has submitted a new application to use three locations in Central Park to stage the rally.

A previous application to use Central Park was been turned down by the city.

"Exiling a rally to a remote stretch of sun-baked highway makes a mockery of the right to assemble," said United for Peace and Justice national coordinator Leslie Cagan.

She said the group will march past Madison Square Garden, site of the convention, but will not rally afterward on the West Side Highway. "It is very clear that Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg is once again trying to suppress freedom of speech and assembly in this city."

Cagan said the city has not addressed the needs of the group in setting up a rally and has not disavowed the use of pens to keep people in certain areas. In its application the group has asked for a response from the city within 48 hours.

A spokesman for the mayor said a response is bring prepared by the police and parks departments.

Copter flights

Civilian helicopters will be restricted to tightly drawn corridors for their flights to and from Manhattan during the Republican National Convention, and Manhattan's three heliports will cease operations altogether on the final day of the convention, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Tuesday.

The restrictions are part of broader air restrictions long planned for the convention, and are not in response to recent reports about possible terrorist threats, the FAA said.

The Republican National Convention is scheduled to begin August 30 and run through September 2 in Manhattan.

Like the Democratic National Convention in Boston last month, the FAA is planning a lengthy list of flight restrictions and procedures in an effort to safeguard the convention from an aerial attack. (America Votes 2004: The Democratic convention)

During the convention, helicopters headed for Manhattan heliports will have to land first at one of two "gateway" airports -- either Morristown, New Jersey, or Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York.

There, they will be given a predetermined route and a code for their transponder. In addition, law enforcement officers will search the helicopters and screen the passengers, the FAA said.

Their time over the island of Manhattan will be kept to an absolute minimum.

Operations at the city's three heliports will be stopped from 7 a.m. Thursday until 7 a.m. Friday.

President Bush is scheduled to speak at the convention Thursday night.

The FAA rule exempts law enforcement helicopters, military helicopters engaged in protecting the convention, and medical emergency helicopters that are coordinating their movements with the FAA.

CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.


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