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Inside Politics

Police and protesters square off

Kelly: 'We're well positioned to take care of any contingency'

By Steve Almasy
CNN

THE MORNING GRIND
more videoVIDEO
CNN's Jeanne Meserve on New York police and convention protests.

CNN's Kelly Wallace on the high stakes of the GOP convention.

CNN's Jeanne Moos on protesters at New York's Plaza Hotel.
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CONVENTION FACTS
Location: New York's Madison Square Garden, seats up to 19,763

Estimated attendees: 50,000

• Estimated budget: $91 million, according to NYC Host Committee 2004

• Delegates: 2,509 (2,344 alternates)

• Estimated volunteers: 15,000

• Hotel rooms used: 18,000+ in more than 40 hotels
SPECIAL REPORT
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Republican Convention
America Votes 2004

(CNN) -- Thousands of protesters will face thousands of security officials at the Republican National Convention even before the event begins Monday at Madison Square Garden in New York.

While no one knows how many protesters will descend on the city, officials expect their numbers to dwarf the crowds seen a month ago at the Democratic event in Boston.

More than 215,000 people are expected to take part in a march Sunday that will kick into gear a week of anti-GOP meetings and events.

The group sponsoring the protest initially wanted to end the march with a rally in Central Park, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg quashed that request, saying that area of the park would be damaged by a large crowd. A court ruled in the city's favor. (Special Report: America Votes 2004, the Republican convention)

"The mayor, a Republican, has rolled out the red carpet for the convention," said Bill Dobbs, media coordinator for United for Peace and Justice.

"But he has thrown obstacle after obstacle in the course of protesters, including stopping us from holding a rally in Central Park, a very basic constitutional right."

On Friday, the group and police agreed upon Union Square as the rally point

United for Peace and Justice, a 2-year-old anti-war umbrella group for 900 organizations, lists on its Web site other events planned for the week, including acts of civil disobedience sponsored by other groups and planned for Tuesday.

One of those groups is the War Resisters League, which plans a march that will end that night with a "die-in" -- participants falling to the ground -- at the site of the convention about the time delegates are to arrive. The Web site for the group lists two training sessions before the march.

Other planned events throughout the week include a symbolic unemployment line organizers hope will stretch from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden, vigils and performances marked with satire.

Protest groups have been using the Internet to coordinate everything from how to meet up for events to where to stay to how to act when being arrested.

Police officials say their first priority is terrorism, but they have trained for everything.

In early August, New York City invited reporters to one of its training facilities in Brooklyn where it showed how it will deal with demonstrators marching peacefully and how officers will deal with civil disobedience arrests.

"We'll be using, in essence, the entire department," New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

"We'll be working extended tours, and I don't believe any area is going to be diminished at all, in terms of, you know, our effective enforcement of the law."

About 10,000 of the city's 38,000 officers will work the convention sites while others will be deployed for sporting events that include the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing.

"Obviously there will be demonstrators here," Kelly told CNN on Thursday.

"The vast majority will be peaceful. We have a lot of balls in the air, but I think we're well positioned to take care of any contingency."

The city also has developed the Peaceful Political Activists program, where protesters who wear a special button or present a savings card will be given discounts such as $5 off admission at the Museum of Sex or up to 30 percent off at a restaurant.

"It's no fun to protest on an empty stomach," Mayor Bloomberg said last week.

Dobbs was not amused.

"Discounts are fine, but constitutional rights are better," he said.

As in Boston, there will be an area outside the convention arena where protesters can gather.

For the Republican convention the area is described by police as "extending south from 31st Street for as far as necessary depending upon the size of the crowd."

Dobbs, who called the controversial fenced-in protest area in Boston a "cage," said it was impossible to engage the Democratic delegates. He said it remained to be seen whether protesters would be able to speak with Republican delegates.


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